This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research profile.
In 2011, close to 15 percent of U.S. households had trouble meeting their food needs. This phenomenon is known as food insecurity, and it means that at some time during the year, these households lacked adequate food for one or more household members due to insufficient money or other resources for food.
Lack of money for food can be caused in part by low earnings, or by high expenses. Disabilities can heighten both of these conditions. Some disabilities can limit the kind or amount of work a person can do. Other adults in the household may need to care for the person with a disability, reducing the amount of time the caregiver can devote to paid employment. Those with disabilities have higher medical expenses and may need to spend money on wheelchairs, special telephones, or other adaptive equipment. In addition, people with disabilities may have difficulty shopping for food and preparing healthy meals.
Prior research has shown that food insecurity is more common among households with an adult who has a work-limiting disability. But what about disabilities that don’t prevent employment? USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) took a look at how these disabilities might affect food security and how the type of disability relates to food insecurity. Special questions added to the U.S. Census Bureau’s monthly Current Population Survey allowed us to identify specific types of disabilities, whether or not they kept someone from holding down a job.
Our findings confirmed that food insecurity was more common for households where disability kept a working-age adult out of the work force than for households that had no working-age adults with disabilities. Disabilities that didn’t necessarily prevent employment also led to a higher prevalence of food insecurity. A third of households with an adult who had a work-preventing disability were food insecure in 2009-10, and a fourth of households that included adults with a non-work preventing disability were food insecure. In comparison, among households that had no working-age adults with disabilities, 12 percent were food insecure in 2009-10.
To be successful at reducing food insecurity for all families, policies and programs will require attention to the special circumstances of households that include members with disabilities. We encourage you to explore more of the findings in our report, Food Insecurity Among Households With Working-Age Adults With Disabilities.