Quarter of LA County homes faced hunger in 2022: USC study

More than 800,000 homes in Los Angeles County have recently experienced food insecurity, according to a new study from the University of Southern California, and researchers say inflation may be to blame. 

The latest numbers, released by USC Dornisife College of letters, Arts and Sciences, show that nearly a quarter of LA County homes had experienced food insecurity in 2022, up from just under 17% at the end of 2021. 

Food insecurity is defined as a disruption in regular eating because of limited money or other resources. Over the time period researchers looked at, most of those affected by food insecurity were low-income, women, Hispanic or Latino, and between 18 and 40 years old. Nearly half of homes suffering from food insecurity during that time had children, according to researchers.

SUGGESTED: Los Angeles charity tackles food insecurity

Food insecurity across the U.S. remained relatively steady over the last three years, hovering between 10 and 11% of homes, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, LA County's rate of food insecurity was more than triple the national average at 34%, USC data said. State and national data for 2022 has not yet been released.

SUGGESTED: Boyle Heights neighbors protest proposal to turn Sears Building into homeless housing

"Any notion that we’re largely ‘out of the woods’ with regard to the problem of hunger in Los Angeles is sadly off base," lead researcher Kayla de la Haye said. "Some of the Angelenos most impacted are Latinos, young adults and families with kids."

Researchers said one of the biggest factors leading to food insecurity has been the increased price of food. Food prices have gone up 9% in 2022, and has gone up by nearly 2% every year since 2019, according to the USDA. In 2020, the average price of a meal in LA County was more than 40 cents higher than the national average, according to Feeding America, a network of nationwide food banks.

When USC researchers asked Angelenos about about their recent food spending habits, nearly a third of them said they bought poor quality food to save money, and more than 40% of those surveyed said they bought less food in general.

To combat this recent rise in food insecurity, USC researchers recommend increasing investments in emergency food assistance in the short-term, as well as investments in government programs like CalFresh long term. Feeding America estimates though that LA County needs at least $755,000