Rising Food Insecurity Grips Los Angeles: USC Study

by Ella

A recent investigation by the USC Institute for Food System Equity has unveiled a disconcerting surge in food insecurity, affecting nearly one million households in Los Angeles—an alarming 6% escalation compared to the previous year.

Food insecurity, as defined in the study, refers to “a lack of access to enough food to live an active, healthy life because of limited money or other resources.”


The study reveals that current food insecurity levels mirror those recorded during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 when the household food insecurity rate soared to 42%, marking an all-time high. After a subsequent 14% decrease in 2021, food insecurity rates have surged each year since, culminating in a new record of 44% in 2023.


An associated factor highlighted in the study is the growing dependence on food pantries, particularly as CalFresh benefits have dwindled. CalFresh is the in-state version of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that offers assistance to low-income families to bolster their food budgets. These benefits can be used to purchase “most foods” in California supermarkets. During the pandemic, government aid for both programs was amplified.


However, as outlined by the US Census in March, some of these pandemic-related benefits were curtailed, which, according to CalMatters, has raised concerns about increased hunger across California.


David May, the communications director for Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, observed, “That was probably the big impact when we talk about [the increase in people utilizing services]. We do attribute probably most of that to the reduction in California’s benefits.”

A USC student, Natalie Williams, shared her perspective on using SNAP benefits to buy groceries, explaining, “Due to my major and also working during the year, I think it is difficult to find time to cook meals, so I always try to buy frozen foods or ingredients to make simple dishes. The amount that I am provided, despite the extra COVID relief money, is plenty, so I did not mind when it was taken away.”

The study identifies four key factors influencing individuals’ access to food. According to the research, individuals aged 18 to 40, females, Hispanic and Latinx populations, and those in low-income jobs are at the highest risk of experiencing food insecurity.

May emphasized that the high cost of living in California is a major barrier to affordable meal options, and while some expenses are seen as unavoidable, food should not be compromised. “People will say, well, ‘I have to pay my water bill, I have to pay my electric bill, I have to pay my rent, but maybe I can get by on just one or two meals a day’,” he remarked.

The study puts forth several recommendations to address this issue, including lowering food prices, increasing enrollment in government food assistance programs, providing additional support for food banks and pantries, and eliminating obstacles to food access.

Tracie Kirkland, a Clinical Associate Professor at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, stressed that food security is a fundamental right and necessity. She highlighted that families without financial stability are often compelled to opt for inexpensive, less nutritious food options, which can detrimentally impact the academic performance of young children.

For USC students seeking resources on food insecurity, the Student Basic Needs website and the Student Equity and Inclusion site offer further information, including access to the Trojan Food Pantry.



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