Are Some Seniors More Affected than Others?
An even deeper issue with senior hunger, aside from how many seniors it affects, is how disproportionately the food insecurity
is spread out amongst race, class levels, and geographic location. Let’s take a look at some of the factors that contribute to
how certain seniors are more affected than the others.
NFESH performed a deep analysis of the level of food insecurity among seniors in 2008. Within the report is the role seniors’
closeness to the poverty line plays in how food insecure they are, whether they are marginally food insecure, food insecure,
or very low food secure. For example, nearly 80 percent of seniors “below 50 percent of the poverty line,” which in 2013
was $15,510 for a two-person household, were at some level of food insecurity.
While food insecurity rates dropped closer to and above the poverty line, the report clarifies that “hunger cuts across
the income spectrum.” More than 50 percent of seniors who are at-risk of being food insecure live above the poverty line.
Craig Gundersen, a professor at the University of Illinois and food security expert, says that the main areas where food insecurity
is increasing the most is among Americans making less than $30,000 per year and those between the ages of 60 and 69.
Gundersen blames the increase in food insecurity rates to many things, but primarily there was a decrease in wages and overall
net worth after the recession in the late 2000s. Many seniors lost mass amounts of money when the stock markets crashed, and as
they’re entering retirement, they didn’t have the time to recover. “Most of them can’t rely on Social Security income, and can’t
receive Medicare until they are 65,” Gundersen said.
A Census Bureau report from 2011 notes that about 15 percent of seniors (about one in six) live in poverty, based on a “supplemental
poverty measure” that adjusts the poverty level to modern day living expenses. This is important because you are more likely
to develop an illness like cancer or heart disease—both often linked to your overall health— when you live in poverty.
Another issue with senior hunger—and food insecurity in general—is how much race affects the likelihood that you are food
insecure. And this is directly tied to class level, as minorities often live in lower income brackets. While the AARP
points out that, as you age, the rate of food insecurity raises among all races and ethnicities, there are still those
who experience food insecurity at much higher rates.
The aforementioned 2008 report of food insecurity found that African-American seniors were far more likely to have some
sort of level of food insecurity than white seniors (almost 50 percent compared to 16 percent) and that Hispanics were
more likely to live at some level of food insecurity than non-Hispanics (40 percent compared to 17 percent).
“African-American households are two to two-and-a-half times as likely to be in one of the three categories as the
typical senior household,” the report clarified, also noting that Hispanics face similar odds. It’s also more likely
in both these minority groups for someone to be food insecure if they are widowed or divorced and live alone.
As mentioned, there are also certain parts of the country that are more likely to be food insecure than others. Areas
where access for fresh produce and food is the most limited are known as “food deserts.” Not only does this include
the absence of fresh food, but food deserts also include areas where access to food is inhibited because of the lack
of grocery stores or the lack of transportation to get to one.
Food deserts often fall in poorer areas of the country, which further fuels the food insecurity levels due to class.
All but one of the top 10 states for food insecurity are in the South or Midwest. These states match a map of the United
States that shows the high concentrations of food deserts. In many of the states with high levels of food insecurity,
there are also counties with larger concentrations of areas where there is no supermarket within a mile of people who
don’t have a car. For instance, in many counties in Arkansas, Alabama, and Louisiana, more than 10 percent of the
population without a car doesn’t have a supermarket within a mile.
This severely affects an individual’s health. Those who lived more than 1.75 miles from a grocery store actually
turned out to have a higher body mass index (BMI) than those who lived closer to one, a
2006 study found.