Food Insecurity in Washington

Food Insecurity
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Food insecurity refers to USDA’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. Food-insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time.

Food insecurity may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods. Every missed meal damages health and increases feelings of distress that distract from the ability to focus on school or work.

Northwest Harvest believes equitable access to nutritious food is a primary catalyst in helping struggling families and individuals achieve stability. If every person at risk of hunger had consistent access to nutritious food, all our communities would be healthier and far stronger. 

Use the search bar to see the data for any WA county.

How many Washington residents are food-insecure?

How many children throughout Washington are food-insecure?

How many Washington households received Basic Food? 

Basic Food is the name in Washington for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits program, sometimes called "food stamps." The data is from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS). ACS data is released every year as annual estimates. However, for small counties, the data is only available in five-year estimates—60-month periods, rather than 12-month—to enable sufficiently accurate estimates with smaller sample sizes. The data shown below is from the 5-year estimates, rather than annual estimates. 

Why this matters: SNAP is the first line of defense against hunger. By allowing individuals the ability to purchase food at local grocery stores and farmers markets, SNAP helps people with lower incomes get the food they need for basic nutrition. SNAP also fuels local economies, is an economic driver during recessions, and is a safety net that helps people through tough but temporary times.

For every one meal provided by the emergency food system (food banks and pantries), SNAP provides 12. Proposals and threats to cut SNAP are primarily aimed to hurt people in our communities. They not only pose a threat of deepening hunger, poverty, and poor health for all of us—they do nothing to address the underlying needs and root causes of hunger. Instead—they put greater strain on community food banks.

Among the households receiving Basic Food in Washington:

What percent of residents have low access to grocery stores in each WA county?

Low access to grocery stores is a measure defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It varies based on urbanicity. People in an urban area have low access if they live more than 1 mile from the nearest store. In rural areas, low access is defined as 10 miles from the nearest store.

Why this matters: The distance between where one lives or works, and their nearest grocery store can be a primary barrier to consistent access to nutritious food. Between limited time, budget, and access to transportation, many have a difficult time reaching their nearest store. Additionally, grocery stores in more rural communities, or stores in low food access areas often have more expensive groceries and/or lack a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Data Sources

Feeding America

Food insecurity data values are estimates published by Feeding America. Citation: Gundersen, C., A. Dewey, M. Kato, A. Crumbaugh & M. Strayer. Most recent data is from: "Map the Meal Gap 2019: A Report on County and Congressional District Food Insecurity and County Food Cost in the United States in 2017." Feeding America, 2019.

American Community Survey

SNAP Households data is from the American Community Survey. The overall percentage of households is from table S2201. The breakdowns by household type are from, in order shown, tables  B22002, B22001, B22010, and B22003. The values are from the ACS's 5-year estimates spanning the period between 2013 and 2017. Readers can download both the 5-year and 1-year ACS estimates for these tables via data.census.gov

United States Department of Agriculture

Low Access to Grocery Store data is provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in the Food Environment Atlas.

See the data at county level: