In this report we examine the health consequences of food insecurity among seniors. The report updates our earlier studies on this issue by examining how trends in health and nutrition outcomes among food secure and food insecure seniors have changed over the past decade before and after the Great Recession. Using data from the 1999-2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, we find that (1) Food insecure seniors have lower nutrient intakes.

Rising rates of food insecurity have led researchers to examine how the local retail food environment affects household food purchases, consumption, and food security. Research has paid particular attention to the presence of “food deserts,” areas with low or no spatial access to retail stores, such as supermarkets and large grocery stores, which sell fresh food and groceries at affordable prices.

A long literature in economics concerns itself with differential allocations of resources to different children within the family unit. In a study of approximately 1,500 very disadvantaged families with children in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio from 1999 to 2005, significant differences in levels of food allocation, as measured by an indicator of food “insecurity,” are found across children of different ages and genders.

This annual report for calendar year 2015  demonstrates that seniors continue to face serious challenges despite a recent slight decline in food insecurity. 

We estimate the effect of welfare reform on the intergenerational transmission of welfare participation and related economic outcomes using a long panel of mother-daughter pairs over the survey period 1968-2013 in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Because states implemented welfare reform at different times starting in 1992, the cross-state variation over time permits us to quasi-experimentally separate out the effect of mothers’ welfare participation during childhood on daughters’ economic outcomes in adulthood in the pre- and post-welfare reform periods.

Our research project addressed the question of how well SNAP and the social safety net protects families against the risk of food insecurity and poor health during economic downturns. Previous research has documented the relationship between reductions in family incomes and food insufficiency and has examined the effects of resources that mitigate the effects of income volatility. The U.S. social safety net, including SNAP, exists to mitigate the deleterious effects of swings in family income, particularly among low- and moderate-income households.

Recent studies have used a distributional analysis of welfare reform experiments suggesting that some individuals reduce hours in order to opt into welfare, an example of behavioral-induced participation. Using data on Connecticut’s Jobs First experiment, we find no evidence of behavioral-induced participation at the highest conditional quantiles of earnings. We offer a simple explanation for this: women assigned to Jobs First incur welfare participation costs to labor supply at higher earnings where the control group is welfare ineligible.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as food stamps) can have important impacts that extend beyond its intended aims to improve food security and nutrition, particularly for health and health care use.

The food stamp program (SNAP) is one of the most important elements of the social safety net and is the second largest anti-poverty program for children in the U.S. (only the EITC raises more children above poverty). The program varies little across states and over time, which creates challenges for quasi-experimental evaluation. Notably, SNAP benefit levels are fixed across 48 states; but local food prices vary widely, leading to substantial variation in the real value of SNAP benefits.


In April 2012 the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture embarked on an ambitious new data collection enterprise known as the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS). FoodAPS is innovative in that it is the first nationally representative household survey to collect comprehensive data on household food expenditures and acquisitions, including those obtained using benefits from food assistance programs.