Rural Food Insecurity: Dramatic Differences from County to County

Here’s a quick look at a rural subset of a new report on food insecurity published today by the Urban Institute. Once again, the numbers show the diversity of life experiences in rural America.

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Experts on rural America will tell you again and again that there’s no such thing as one single, monolithic rural America.

That point gets made forcefully in a new report from the Urban Institute. The report, which comes in the form of an interactive data dashboard, looks at food insecurity across America.

Urban Institute: Disrupting Food Insecurity Tapping data for strategies that tackle the root causes
VIEW THE FULL REPORT: Urban Institute: Disrupting Food Insecurity Tapping data for strategies that tackle the root causes

Food insecurity on average tends to be a bit higher in rural counties versus urban ones. But there’s a tremendous variety in food insecurity across rural counties – and even within the same states. This map shows that clearly.

The map is a rural subset of the Urban Institute’s dashboard. Here, we’re showing just the counties that the report flags as rural or mostly rural.

The counties here (defined by the percentage of Census-defined rural population they contain, not the metro/nonmetro system) show the variety of food insecurity across rural and mostly rural counties.

Full-page version of this map.
See the Urban Institute’s complete interactive dashboard.

Red and orange counties have very high food insecurity. These cluster in the South (including Oklahoma and Texas), plus parts of Indian Country in the West, Great Plains, and Alaska. It’s a pattern familiar to anyone who even occasionally glances at maps on economic and social indicators.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the blue counties. These have low food insecurity, meaning families are more likely to have access to a steady food supply. Note how few of these counties fall south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Virginia has its share. But otherwise the region has very little blue until you get over to Texas.

The Great Plains and Northern Rockies have a large share of the blue counties, and there’s a smattering in the east.

To me, one of the most striking revelations of the map is how food security and insecurity exist side by side in many states. Blue (low insecurity) and orange (high insecurity) abut in Southside Virginia. Eastern and Western Oklahoma are worlds apart on the food security scale. And single counties with food insecurity dot across the otherwise blue northern Great Plains. Nearly all these counties with food insecurity (red) are home to Indian nations.

Again, there’s much more information – including information on contributing factors behind food insecurity – in the Urban Institute’s report.

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