Job Disruptions due to COVID-19 Impact Food Security for Arizona

Jennifer Pullen, Senior Research Economist

Food insecurity in Arizona is a serious issue. Prior to the pandemic, in 2017, nearly one million individuals, or 14.0% of the population of Arizona was food insecure at some point during the year.

A recent survey conducted by University of Arizona and Arizona State University researchers as part of the National Food Access and COVID Research Team (NFACT) found that the prevalence of food insecurity among Arizona households that experienced a job disruption because of the COVID-19 pandemic was significantly higher than among households that did not have a job disruption.

The recent publication “Job Disruptions During the First Four Months of the COVID-19 Pandemic and Their Impacts on Food Security in Arizona” collected data from a representative sample of Arizona residents on changes in their employment status during the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The results show that food insecurity increased significantly for those that experienced a job disruption when compared to those who did not. The article reported that overall 33% of households in their sample were food insecure during the first four months of the pandemic. The food insecurity rate increased to 57% for households that experienced job disruptions, while the food insecurity rate was lower for those households that did not experience a job disruption (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Food Insecurity Rates by Changes in Employment Status in Arizona since March 2020

The article further explores food scarcity for households by race and ethnicity. The survey results found that job disruptions were associated with higher rates of food insecurity for all racial/ethnic groups, but most prevalent among Hispanic households. As Figure 2 illustrates, the food insecurity for Hispanic households that experienced a job disruption was 74.0%, while the rate for non-Hispanic households was 41.0%. Households that did not experience a job disruption had lower food insecurity rates. However, Hispanic households still had substantially higher rates of food insecurity rates at 38.0% when compared to the non-Hispanic household rate of 14.0%.

Figure 2: Percent of Food Insecure Households by Changes in Employment Status and Race/Ethnicity

The article also contains information on food-related concerns and behavioral adaptions by household job disruption status. For example, most households reported more time cooking during the first four months of the pandemic and many respondents were concerned that food would become too expensive for them to afford. To read the full report you can find it on the National Food Access and COVID Research Team (NFACT) webpage. NFACT is a collaboration of researchers across 15 states exploring the impact of COVID-19 on food access, food security, and food systems.

The MAP article “Household Pulse Survey: Digging a Little Deeper” reported food scarcity rates for households with and without children as of the week of November 11th from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The Household Pulse Survey collects weekly data on how households are faring the pandemic and includes a question on household food scarcity. Recent data collected the first week of February show that 10.3% of Arizona households reported that there was either sometimes or often not enough to eat during the past seven days. Arizona’s rate among the western states was relatively low with Nevada households reporting the highest rate of 15.0% (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Percentage of Adults in Households with Food Scarcity (week of February 3rd)

The household pulse survey includes questions on food sufficiency for households by select characteristics like age, income, employment status, race & ethnicity, and if a household has children. Stay tuned for a detailed MAP article exploring the food security data available from the Household Pulse Survey. 

Overall, it is clear that the widespread job disruptions caused by the pandemic translated into increased food scarcity in Arizona. This despite the huge infusion of federal relief into the state through the CARES Act and other federal relief programs. Trends in food scarcity will be key to track as the state economy recovers in 2021.