One Year Later: Food Scarcity in New York State During the COVID-19 Pandemic - New Report from the NYS Health Foundation

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

One Year Later: Food Scarcity in New York State During the COVID-19 Pandemic - New Report from the NYS Health Foundation


Food insecurity is a secondary crisis of the coronavirus pandemic. Over the course of 2020, millions of New Yorkers lost employment or were living on a reduced household income, straining their ability to afford food.[1] For many New Yorkers, savings are depleted, stimulus checks have long since been spent, and enhanced unemployment benefits are not sufficient to meet food needs. Furthermore, social distancing measures have disrupted previous pathways to food access, such as meals provided in community settings (e.g., houses of worship) or schools.

This report reviews self-reported survey data related to food scarcity in New York State during the coronavirus pandemic. It presents food scarcity rates by race and ethnicity, age, and household income, and compares New York State with neighboring states. Rates are also shown for child food scarcity. It assesses how different groups of New Yorkers are accessing free meals and groceries and from which access points (e.g., school programs, food pantries). Finally, it measures which methods food-scarce New Yorkers are using to meet their household spending needs. Unless otherwise specified, results in this report are among adult New Yorkers.

Data from this report come the COVID-19 Household Pulse Survey, an experimental data product designed by the U.S. Census Bureau in collaboration with multiple federal agencies. The survey, which is ongoing, is providing near real-time data on household experiences during the coronavirus pandemic. This analysis uses data from phase one (April 23, 2020–July 21, 2020), phase two (August 19, 2020–October 26, 2020), and the first four periods of phase three (October 28, 2020–December 21, 2020). This report extends trends described in a prior NYSHealth brief that focused on the phase one results. See Methods for more details on the survey and how rates are developed for this report.

How Do Current Trends Compare with Food Scarcity Before COVID-19?

The Household Pulse Survey began collecting data in April 2020, after the onset of the pandemic. To measure the change in food scarcity resulting from the pandemic, other data sources must be used as a benchmark for pre-pandemic periods. A widely used measure comes from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which reports data on food insecurity, a common approach to assessing food scarcity issues. USDA reported that 10.5% of households in New York State surveyed between 2016 and 2018 had experienced food insecurity in the last year.[2] USDA’s research uses different questions to measure food scarcity than the Pulse Survey, and asks about food access over the past year instead of the past week. Therefore, any comparisons with the Pulse data are imperfect. For example, it is likely that the food scarcity rates from the Pulse survey would be even higher if food scarcity were measured over the past year. For more details, see Methods.

[1] New York State Department of Labor. “NYS Unemployment Rate Falls to 8.2% in December 2020.” Accessed February 2021.

[2] Alisha Coleman-Jensen, Matthew P. Rabbitt, Christian A. Gregory, and Anita Singh, “Household Food Security in the United States in 2018.” United States Department of Agriculture: Economic Research Report Number 270. Accessed February 2021.

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