The good news is 85 percent of Americans have enough food to eat, and that number has changed little since 2008. The bad news is that 15 percent of Americans were food insecure at some time during 2011, and that number also has changed little since 2008.

Also, within the “food insecure” group, the number of those rated as having very low food security ticked up slightly from 2010 to 2011.

USDA’s Economic Research Service released its annual report on household food security in the United States this week. Data in the report result from a survey of 43,770 households, which the researchers consider a representative sample of 119 million total U.S. households.

The agency defines food insecurity as when household access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources.

According to the report, U.S. food insecurity had run at about 10 to 11 percent of households since 2000, but jumped to near 15 percent when the recession hit in 2007 and 2008. The level of food insecurity has remained fairly steady since then.

The number of households having very low food security hovered between 3 and 4 percent from 2000 until 2007 and 2008, when it jumped to near 6 percent. That number slowly declined to 5.4 percent in 2010, but in 2011 moved upward to 5.7 percent. Households in the “very low food security” category number 6.8 million and account for one-third of all food-insecure households.

Other key points in the report include:

  • Children were food insecure at times during 2011 in 3.9 million households, or 10 percent of households with children. This number was statistically unchanged from 9.8 percent in 2010.
  • Adults in households with very low food security typically work to ensure kids get enough food, but in 374,000 U.S. households, or 1 percent, both children and adults experienced very low food insecurity during 2011. That number also was unchanged from 2010.
  • Fifty-seven percent of food-insecure households in the survey reported that in the previous month, they had participated in one or more of the three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs.
  • Demographics play a key role, as single-parent households, Black or Hispanic households and households below the federal poverty line are substantially more likely to experience food insecurity than the national average.
  • The typical food-secure household spent 24 percent more on food than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and household composition.
  • On average, between 2009 and 2011, the states with the highest levels of food insecurity included Arkansas at 19.2 percent, Texas and Alabama at 18.5 and 18.2 percent respectively. States with the lowest levels of food insecurity during that same time were North Dakota at 7.8 percent, New Hampshire at 9.6 percent and Virginia at 9.1 percent.

Read the full report or a summary from USDA/ERS.