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The Unequal Impact of Hunger on Communities of Color

Poverty rates among Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC) communities are significantly higher than the national average. To ensure all people receive the nourishing foods they need to thrive, over 800 Hunger Relief Partners team up with Food Bank of the Rockies to source culturally relevant, nutritious foods to provide to their community members. / Photo by Cait Barnett

There is no question that the pandemic has affected everyone over the past two years, paying no mind to location, age, race, gender, or any other metric used by society to demarcate differences between people. But while we’ve all been impacted by the ongoing crisis, individuals who identify as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC) have felt the weight especially acutely, as the additional economic hardships add to the systemic barriers already in place which prohibit these communities from thriving. This unequal impact can be seen in the levels of food insecurity experienced by BIPOC communities nationally, including within our 53-county service area spanning all of Wyoming and much of Colorado.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplements found that the overall poverty rate in the United States was 11.4%. That’s high — 1% more than in 2019, the first year-over-year increase after five consecutive years of decline — but nowhere near as severe as the levels of poverty experienced by Latino, Black, and Native American communities. For these groups, poverty rates were 17%, 19.5%, and 24.9% respectively. In comparison, the poverty rate for the non-Latino white population was 10.1%.

Among the many negative effects caused by living in poverty is food insecurity. Food insecurity is defined by Feeding America as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life.” For some people, food insecurity can be temporary, as it might be for individuals who lost their job during the pandemic. For others, it is an ongoing reality.

Centuries-long discriminatory policies against BIPOC individuals have resulted in a higher likelihood of poverty, unemployment, and a lack of financial resources. These factors, especially when coupled with systemic racism, increase a person’s probability of experiencing hunger. / Photo by Caitlyn Barnett

Another way to look at food insecurity is as an economic condition driven by a lack of money and other critical resources. For BIPOC communities, the pandemic may have worsened their economic situation, but societal systems and overall norms were already working against them. In the United States, the majority of policies, institutional practices, and other societal standards were designed to benefit the white population and therefore do not equitably serve BIPOC communities. Centuries-long discriminatory policies against BIPOC individuals have resulted in a higher likelihood of poverty, unemployment, and a lack of financial resources. All of these factors, especially when coupled with the systemic racism built into hiring practices and housing practices (mortgage loans, rental leases, providing proof of three months’ income, etc.), increase a person’s probability of experiencing hunger.

The correlation between poor economic conditions and food insecurity is stark. Using data from the 2019 American Community Survey, Feeding America drew direct lines between five population-level indicators — poverty, homeownership, disability, median income, and unemployment — and food-insecurity rates among Asian, Black, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander, and non-Hispanic White communities. Given that the data was gathered prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the report demonstrates that the ensuing discrepancies between the groups is an ongoing, historical problem, not something temporarily caused by our current global situation.

Here’s what the report found specifically for food insecurity by state and hunger statistics in the United States:

In 2019, the national unemployment rate was 3.5%. Compared to this average:

  • The unemployment rate among Blacks was 10%
  • The unemployment rate among Native Americans was 10%
  • The unemployment rate among Latinos was 6%
  • The unemployment rate among Pacific Islanders was 7%

 
These higher unemployment numbers directly correlated with the food insecurity rates for these ethnic groups. Compared to the 2019 national average of 10.9%:

  • The food insecurity rate among Blacks was 22%
  • The food insecurity rate among Native Americans was 27%
  • The food insecurity rate among Latinos was 18%
  • The food insecurity rate among Pacific Islanders was 21%

 
Zooming in on Food Bank of the Rockies’ distribution area, the report determined the following about income levels among the different racial or ethnic groups surveyed:

Compared to the median income of $75,252 for our 53-county service area in 2019:

  • The Black population’s median income was 31% less
  • The Native American population’s median income was 29.2% less
  • The Latino population’s median income was 23% less
  • The White population’s median income was 8.3% more

 
There is no singular solution to resolve the systemic inequality impacting BIPOC communities’ access to food, housing, income opportunity, or the several other resources that constitute a healthy, comfortable life. But there are ways to bridge the gaps that currently exist in order to ensure our neighbors don’t have to worry about whether or not they or their loved ones will be able to eat.

To do this, we must address the societal and structural barriers to food security experienced by BIPOC communities, including but not limited to transportation, the locations of grocery stores and food pantries, and barriers to service. At the core of Food Bank of the Rockies’ mission lie inclusion, equity, and dignity, and we will continue to seek innovative and effective ways to provide our community with equitable, dignified access to food. Someday, we hope we will no longer be needed. But until racial equity is the norm in the United States, we must strive to do more for more people by igniting the power of community to nourish all of our neighbors in need — together.

To learn more about the ways Food Bank of the Rockies is striving to expand equity and inclusivity across our programs, check out the following resources:

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