Food insecurity reached record levels during the Covid-19 pandemic and remains above pre-pandemic levels one year later.
Vermont Business Magazine Food insecurity in Vermont reached record levels during the Covid-19 pandemic with nearly one in three Vermonters experiencing food insecurity at some point since March 2020. Now, new research from the University of Vermont finds nearly two-thirds (62%) of those Vermonters were still food insecure one year into the pandemic.
The findings are the latest from a series of surveys conducted by Meredith Niles and colleagues in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences and Gund Institute for Environment at UVM to understand the pandemic’s impact on food security and food access. The study is one of the first to follow the same group of individuals (441 Vermonters) over a full year and builds on previous reports released by the research team at various intervals during the pandemic.
More than half of survey respondents reported suffering a job disruption during the pandemic such as a job loss, reduction in work hours or income, or furlough. Of them, 18.2% were still experiencing a job disruption one year into the pandemic. However, only 1 in 5 of those with a job disruption received unemployment at some point during the first year of the pandemic.
Photo: Students harvesting onions atCatamount Farm. Excess crops are donated to organizations providing food assistance in Vermont. Courtesy photo.
Vermonters who remained food insecure in March 2021 were more likely to still be experiencing a job disruption and to have been food insecure before the pandemic started. In addition, those with greater odds of experiencing food insecurity include people without a college degree (4.1 times greater), women (2.4 times greater), households with children (2.4 times greater) and people under 55 (2 times greater).
“What we’re seeing is that the pandemic is likely to have a longer-term impact,” said Niles. “Many people faced long-term job disruptions and even though some may be back at work, it doesn’t mean they aren’t still facing financial hardships.”
Yet despite the sustained, elevated levels of food insecurity, fewer respondents reported using federal food assistance programs and food pantries in March 2021 compared to earlier in the pandemic, or prior to the pandemic for some programs. And overall, concerns about food becoming more expensive or the possible loss of food assistance programs are decreasing as compared to earlier in the pandemic.
“The lower use of food assistance programs and food pantries may be a good sign, but given that food insecurity rates remain above pre-pandemic levels suggests that some people may be going without help,” explained Ashley McCarthy, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences. “This is a topic we will continue to examine, especially as the pandemic lingers and new variants emerge.”
The research team, which also includes UVM researchers Farryl Bertmann and Emily Belarmino, are continuing to track the impact of Covid-19 on food access, food security and food systems in Vermont. The work is part of a collaborative, national effort to examine these impacts across local, state, regional and national levels. Led by Niles, the National Food Access and COVID research Team (NFACT) involves more than 25 institutions with 18 study sites across 15 states.
This research is supported by rapid response funding from UVM’s Office of the Vice President of Research, the Gund Institute for Environment, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the ARS Center for Food Systems Research.