Abstract: Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Food Insecurity during the COVID-19 Pandemic (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

319P Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Food Insecurity during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Courtney Henrichsen, MSW, Student-Doctoral, Saint Louis University, St. Charles, MO
Jewel Stafford, MSW, PhD Student, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO
Christina Anozie, MSW, Social Worker, Saint Louis University, MO
Mirvat Termos, MPH, Graduate Research Assistant, Saint Louis University, Saint Louis, MO
Background/Purpose: According to a recent report published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 13.7 million households experienced food insecurity at some point during 2019; this equates to more than 35 million people including millions of children. The USDA report precedes the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic which has greatly exacerbated instances of food insecurity in American households by causing a rapid surge in unemployment and poverty and disrupting existing infrastructure for food programs serving vulnerable populations.

The purpose of this study is to examine the specific characteristics of household food insecurity throughout this crisis with an emphasis on racial and ethnic disparities. The focal hypothesis of this study is that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, racial and ethnic minority households experienced higher levels of food insecurity than white households.

Methods: Data/samples: The Household Pulse Survey (HPS) was created by the U.S Census Bureau in partnership with several other federal agencies and launched in April 2020 to measure effects of the coronavirus pandemic on U.S. households. The HPS continues to be issued on a weekly basis one year later. The HPS uses the U.S. Census Bureau’s Master Address File as the source to select a sufficiently large sample to accommodate anticipated lower response rates and still produce useful weighted estimates. This project uses data from the first 27 weeks of the HPS to examine trends related to food security during the COVID-19 pandemic with an emphasis on racial and ethnic disparities.

Measures: The HPS collected a reliable and valid measure of food insecurity by asking respondents to choose one of four statements that best described the food situation in their households over the past seven days. This was recoded as a binary indicator of household food security. For pooled analysis, race and ethnicity were coded binarily as white, non-Hispanic and all other races and ethnicities; for trend analysis, race and ethnicity were coded as an eight-level interaction variable. Additional covariates in the analysis include common sociodemographic variables and variables related to food insecurity established by extant literature.

Results: In a crude outcome comparison of the pooled data, non-white respondents were found to have 2.04 greater odds of being food insecure during the pandemic than white respondents (OR = 2.04, 95% CI: 2.02, 2.06, p < .001). In a weighted logistic regression of the pooled data, non-white respondents were found to have 1.06 greater odds of being food insecure than white respondents (AOR = 1.06, 95% CI: 1.05, 1.07, p < .001). Weekly trends of these statistics and others are examined in the full report.

Conclusion: Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing food insecurity in America, and globally, is urgent. With the sudden onset of the pandemic, a striking increase in food insecurity was witnessed for the first time since the Great Recession. The findings of this study will help researchers understand the differences in food insecurity trends between racial/ethnic minorities that will inform actions and policies to improve food security across all racial and ethnic groups in the United States.