Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

ELCA World Hunger

New Data Show Trends, Challenge Old Wisdom

Knowing the numbers for hunger and poverty can go a long way to helping us talk about the issues accurately and craft effective, forward-looking responses. For those who share with their congregation information about hunger and poverty, these numbers can also be helpful in putting together presentations or workshops.

There are several sources for data that are particularly reliable and useful[1]:

  • The World Bank’s poverty report;
  • The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO) annual “State of Food Security” report;
  • The US Census Bureau’s annual reports on poverty and income; and
  • The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) annual “Food Security in the US” report.

We are still waiting for the release of the USDA’s report, hopefully within the next week, but already, the data are showing some troubling trends and some surprising shifts in understanding hunger and poverty.

Rather than litter this post with a ton of footnotes, the sources are summarized below.

Information and infographics about global hunger and food security come from:
FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2023. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023.
Urbanization, agrifood systems transformation and healthy diets across the rural–urban continuum. Rome, FAO.
Information and infographics about incomes in the United States come from:
Gloria Guzman and Melissa Kollar, U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-279, Income in the United States: 2022, U.S. Government Publishing Office, Washington, DC, September 2023.
Information and infographics about poverty in the United States come from:
Emily A. Shrider and John Creamer, U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-280, Poverty in the United States: 2022, U.S. Government Publishing Office, Washington, DC, September 2023.


Global Hunger

The first troubling trend in the data is that the spike in hunger we have seen in recent years has not eased. Hunger is still “far above pre-pandemic levels” (FAO, 2023, viii). In 2022, between 690 and 783 million people were hungry. If we look at the middle of this range – 735 million – we find about 122 million more people hungry in 2022 than in 2019 (613 million.) The prevalence of undernourishment, which is the measure the FAO uses to determine the rate of hunger, has increased from 7.9% in 2019 to 9.2% in 2022 – nearly 1 in 11 people around the world.

Prevalence and number of undernourished people globally, 2023 (FAO)

Fortunately, that’s come down a bit from 2021. There were about 3.8 million fewer people facing hunger in 2022 compared to 2021, but the number remains remarkably high. The rate of hunger in 2022 was a slight decrease from 9.3% in 2021, but still the highest rate since 2005. In some areas, especially Africa, Western Asia and the Caribbean, hunger continues to rise, in part because of reliance on more expensive exports.

We see even more concerning news if we turn to another measure the FAO reports, namely food security. While the prevalence of undernourishment measures long-term, chronic signs of hunger, the FAO also reports on food security, which is a shorter-term measure of people’s access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food year-round.[2] In 2022, 2.4 billion people were food-insecure, an increase of 391 million people since 2019, relatively unchanged from 2021. This means nearly 30% of people around the world cannot reliably access the food they need.

What is keeping hunger and food insecurity so high?

For starters, one critical factor is the war in Ukraine. The FAO estimates that, without the war, 23 million people would not have faced hunger in 2022. Another factor is rising costs. Food is more expensive, fuel is more expensive and incomes haven’t risen to match the jump in prices. Many countries at risk of hunger are dependent on exports. The “world food import bill,” which measures how much is spent globally on the import of food and food products, reached nearly US$2 trillion in 2022, the highest on record and an increase of 10% from 2021. This puts enormous pressures on importing countries and translates into much steeper prices for consumers. The cost for imports of agricultural inputs, such as fertilizer (a huge export of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus), was even more staggering – $424 billion in 2022, an increase of 48% from 2021. Put together, it’s more expensive to bring food in and significantly more expensive to produce food in-country.

One of the trends impacting hunger and the cost of food is urbanization. More and more people globally are moving into large cities or closer to cities. By 2050, nearly 7 in 10 people worldwide are expected to live in cities. The result of this shift, according to the FAO, is that the old framework of a rural-urban divide simply doesn’t match the world as it is. In general, as people move toward cities, their economic prospects grow, and their risk of hunger and poverty decreases (slightly.) The problem we are seeing now, though, is rapid urbanization without economic growth. While we used to think of hunger as primarily a rural issue globally, the data point us toward understanding the need to attend to a continuum of rural-to-urban, including people who live in the in-between spaces between cities and rural areas.

As people move into cities, their diets change, and this presents a challenge to traditional thinking about hunger. For years, the truism has been that the world produces enough food to meet everyone’s needs. That might not be the case going forward. Between diets changing and more people moving away from food production in rural areas, the FAO finds that “the availability of vegetables and fruits, in particular, is insufficient to meet the daily dietary requirements in almost every region of the world” (FAO, 2023, xxii; 62). The reality seems to be that the world doesn’t produce enough food for everyone in every region to enjoy a healthy diet. Hunger isn’t just a problem of access but of production that meets changing needs – and changing understandings of nutrition and health.

The availability of food groups to meet a healthy diet (FAO)


Another surprising finding is that, in most of the countries the FAO analyzed, the majority of food consumed in rural households is purchased, not produced. This, too, challenges the traditional picture of rural subsistence farmers relying solely on food they grow or produce and makes the relationship between access and production more complex. The reality is that, in rural areas, the share of food that is produced by a household represents only about 33-37% of the food they consume, according to the FAO. The rest is purchased from grocery stores, street vendors or other suppliers.

There are a couple of consequences here. First, the growth in food purchases also means, in many cases, increased consumption of highly-processed foods, which can have lower nutritional value. This may mean that improving food security and nutrition will require new regulations to incentivize healthy eating and prevent exposure to unsafe foods, especially convenience foods purchased from street vendors. Second, focusing on increasing yields and production among rural farmers is important but may need to be combined with other efforts. It may also be important to focus on ways to generate income and to connect people to markets, particularly through improved infrastructure, such as navigable roads. That said, there still needs to be a focus on increasing farming production, especially of fruits and vegetables but also of staple grains, to meet the growing needs of an urbanizing population and to build resilience to shocks to export markets, as we’re seeing with the war in Ukraine.

The long-and-short of it is that the data suggest that the world may face a problem of not producing enough food to meet the changing diets of the world, and rural subsistence, as we tend to envision it, doesn’t completely reflect people’s actual dietary lives. These are huge shifts in our understanding.

Poverty and Income in the United States

As mentioned above, we are still waiting for new data on food security, but we do have information on income and poverty, courtesy of the US Census Bureau.

In 2022, the official poverty rate in the US was 11.5%, representing about 37.9 million people living in poverty. The good news is this wasn’t significantly different from 2021; the bad news is that this rate is far too high and still slightly higher than in 2019, before the pandemic.

Number of people in poverty and poverty rate over time in the US (US Census Bureau)


One thing to note in the data is geographic differences in poverty. While people living in every type of setting – city, suburb, rural– face vulnerability to poverty, the highest rate of poverty in the US is found “outside metropolitan statistical areas” or, in other words, rural areas. Fifteen percent of people living in rural areas in 2022 experienced poverty, compared to 11.0% living in urban centers (“metropolitan statistical areas.”) In principal cities themselves, poverty remained above 14% for 2022. So, the picture of poverty in the US as being primarily urban is not quite borne out by research; rural areas actually experience poverty at a slightly higher rate.

In addition to the official poverty measure, the US Census Bureau also calculates a Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM.) You can read more about the differences here, but one of the interesting things the SPM lets us see is how certain safety net programs and benefits help alleviate poverty. It also allows us to estimate how much certain costs contribute to poverty. Moreover, it determines the threshold of income that is “in poverty” a bit differently.

One important caveat before getting into the numbers: the numbers below are from the Supplemental Poverty Measure, not the official poverty measure. While they are illuminating and help us to analyze poverty more deeply, they should not be used as a replacement for the official poverty measure.

Here is where the news gets a bit frustrating, to be honest. We knew when the Child Tax Credit was expanded that we would see a rapid reduction in child poverty, and we did. Of course, that expansion and COVID-19 stipends expired in 2022, so the rate of child poverty in the US went up, as we knew it would. In fact, between 2021 and 2022, according to the SPM, child poverty more than doubled, from 5.4% in 2021 to 12.4% in 2022. At the same time, the official poverty rate for children stayed relatively stable, showing the deep impact the Child Tax Credit expansion had on child poverty. Perhaps even more worrisome is that the share of children in households with income of less than half of the poverty line also doubled, showing an increase of more than 100% for children living in what is considered deep poverty. Increases in deep poverty were true across the board for all age groups. The share of the population with resources below 50 percent of the SPM poverty threshold increased for every age group in the US. What this may point to is the way in which tax credits and stimulus payments had had a particularly significant impact on people living in deep poverty. What it also suggests is that ending poverty for households, even households in deep poverty, is not impossible; progress just takes bold but doable policy choices.

Child poverty – supplemental poverty measure vs. official poverty measure, US (US Census Bureau)


From the SPM, we can also get an idea of how effective certain public programs were in keeping people out of poverty in 2022. As the graph below indicates, for example, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly food stamps) and the National School Lunch Program lifted 5.1 million people out of poverty, while out-of-pocket medical expenses moved 7.1 million people into poverty, which means that, after medical expenses are subtracted from their resources, more than 7 million people had household resources below the poverty line.

Supplemental poverty measure – the impact of various sources of income or costs (US Census Bureau)


In terms of income, real median household income in the US decreased 2.3% between 2021 and 2022, from an estimated $76,330 per household to $74,580. More people were working full-time, year-round, but real median earnings of workers (including both part-time and full-time) decreased 2.2%. For just full-time, year-round workers, the drop in earnings was 1.3% from 2021 to 2022. So, the next time someone complains about how workers “these days” earn so much, you can gently and gracefully remind them that earnings are lower now than they were last year when accounting for inflation– at the same time (and partially because) goods cost so much more.


Credit: US Census Bureau, 2023


Moreover, the next time someone says, “People just don’t want to work anymore,” it might be helpful to point out that the number of full-time, year-round workers increased 3.4% between 2021 and 2022, compared to an overall increase in workers of 1.7%, which, according to the US Census Bureau, suggests that what we are actually seeing is a shift from part-time work to full-time, year-round work. The percentage of people 16 years and older who were in the labor force in 2022 was 63.5% – not much different from the 63.6% 5-year average from 2017-2021.

In terms of racial disparities in real median income, White and non-Hispanic White households experienced a decrease of 3.5% and 3.6%, respectively, while the change in income for other racial groups was not statistically different from 2021. This change may be because of long-term income disparities. White and non-Hispanic White workers tend to be paid disproportionately higher incomes than other racial groups, sometimes as much as 25-100% higher, and still, despite the modest decrease, get paid real median incomes of $108,700 per year per household, the highest among racial groups. Further analysis shows that the losses in real median income nationwide largely occurred in middle and high income brackets, so this makes some sense.

This drop in middle and high incomes means that income inequality was lower in 2022 than in 2021. In fact, the US Census Bureau reports that 2022 represented the first drop in the Gini coefficient – a common measure of income inequality – since 2007. There is some good news there, though, if we look at other measurements, such as the mean logarithmic deviation of income, which is a bit more sensitive to changes at the lower end of the income spectrum, we still see income inequality at the highest rate it has been since 1967, with the exception of 2021, of course.

What this means is that, yes, income inequality decreased because of drops in income at the middle- and high-income levels. But when the lowest 20% of income earners draw in only 3% of the total income of the country, and the highest 20% get more than 52% of the total income, can we really say that we are making headway on inequality? Probably not. There’s more work to be done.

Where to go from here?

“More work to be done” is a good way to sum up what we can learn from the data. Certainly, we are nowhere near the worst of projections from the early months of the pandemic. But we are also a far cry from the Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger by 2050.

We know, though, that things do not have to be this way. We have come a long way from where we were as a country and a world in 1974, when the Lutheran hunger appeals that became ELCA World Hunger began. As we look ahead to the 50th anniversary of this ministry next year, we do so with hope and faith. Hunger and poverty are not givens. What the last few years’ worth of data demonstrate isn’t the intractability of hunger but the risk our world runs when we collectively ease up on progress toward ending hunger and poverty.

Working together, learning from one another, listening to each other, advocating together and creating spaces for communities to build trust and address the injustices that create vulnerability will all be important steps along the way.


[1] What makes data “reliable and useful”? One of the first things to consider is whether the sources of data describe their methods, including limitations of the data. This can help point to whether the data are reliable or not. Another factor to consider is consistency. The agencies named in the list use the same methods year after year, so data can be compared over time, and they report any changes to methods that might impact comparability.

[2] In the past few years, there has been more attention to “food crises” around the world and reports that use a measurement referred to as IPC/CH to determine risk of famine. The FAO has a great explanation of how food crisis measurements compare to undernourishment and food security measurements in the 2023 “State of Food Security” report. See Box 1, page 12 of the report.

Hunger at the Crossroads: New Webinar Series


banner with title of webinar series


We know that hunger is about more than food. Understanding hunger – and working to end it – means seeing the many ways hunger and poverty intersect with so many other issues, including climate change, food production, access to housing, racial justice, gender justice and more. In “Hunger at the Crossroads,” a webinar series hosted by ELCA World Hunger, we will explore these intersections and the ways we can be part of God’s promise of a just world where all are fed.

New webinar sessions will be posted below. Participants do need to register beforehand, so check back and register to attend!


The webinars are open to anyone passionate about ending hunger and eager to learn more. In each session, we will dive deeply into the topic, with presentations from ELCA World Hunger staff and partners and time for questions and conversation.

Upcoming Webinars

“Conflict and Hunger” – November 3, 2022, at 1:00pm Central time

Violent conflict is one of the most significant drivers of hunger around the world. From wars between nations to ethnic and tribal violence, conflicts affect farms, markets, jobs, housing, trade and more. In this webinar, we will hear from ELCA staff from around the world, who will help us dive more deeply into the tragic and significant ways violent conflict impacts hunger.

“Health and Hunger” – December 1, 2022, at 6:00pm Central time

Hunger and health are related in complex ways. Hunger and under-nourishment can both contribute to long-term health problems, while health challenges can increase the risk of hunger through lost wages and expensive medical bills. In this webinar, we will be joined by experts from both the United States and overseas to learn more. We will also hear from leaders working to improve health in their communities and learn some effective steps that can be taken toward a just world where all are fed – and where all are healthy.


Registration for both “Conflict and Hunger” and “Health and Hunger” is now open through one form! Visit to register. You can register for one or both of the upcoming webinars through this form.  Follow ELCA World Hunger on Facebook and Twitter to get up-to-date information, including dates and links for registration for future webinars. Questions about “Hunger at the Crossroads” can be sent to


Previous Webinars

“Sexuality, Gender Identity and Hunger” with Rev. Heidi Neumark (Trinity Lutheran Church, New York, New York) and Rev. Joe Larson (Fargo, North Dakota) – August 12, 2021

“Climate Change and Hunger” with Ryan Cumming and Brooke De Jong (ELCA World Hunger) – October 27th, 2021

“Hunger and Poverty by the Numbers: Where Are We at Now?” with Ryan Cumming (ELCA World Hunger) – December 9, 2021

“Housing and Hunger” with Brooke De Jong (ELCA World Hunger) and featuring a NEW! resource on housing – June 29, 2022

Watch the recordings of previous “Hunger at the Crossroads” webinars here:


We hope to see you “at the Crossroads”!


New Data Available: Hunger and Poverty by the Numbers for 2020


Knowing the numbers for hunger and poverty can go a long way to helping us talk about the issues accurately and craft effective, forward-looking responses. For those who share with their congregation information about hunger and poverty, these numbers can also be helpful in putting together presentations or workshops.Below, we have compiled the data from the most reliable sources we have for official numbers on poverty and hunger in the United States and around the world. You can download the slides to put directly into a presentation or use the numbers in your communications and work. You can also download the entire Power Point presentation at the link at the end.

Of course, we know with the COVID-19 pandemic that many of these numbers are already out-of-date. We have some estimates of how the pandemic is impacting hunger and poverty, but no solid data has yet been published. At the end of this post, we’ll go over what we know so far about COVID’s impact. (To no one’s surprise, it’s not good.)

ELCA World Hunger relies on several sources for data:

*One important note before we get started is that data are always for previous years. Below, we’ve indicated what years are being measured by the data. These are the most up-to-date statistics available from the sources. All statistics, graphs and charts come from the respective sources listed above.

U.S. Poverty

We’ll start off with data about the United States. Here are the thresholds used to measure poverty in 2019:

The poverty thresholds are reported here as averages for households by number of people. The Census Bureau takes into account the age of householders and the number of children to determine the threshold. So, for example, for a household of four, the average poverty threshold is $26,172. The range, though, is $26,017-26,370, depending on the characteristics of the household. You can see another example in the slide under the household of a single person.

Another important point here is that the poverty thresholds differ from the poverty guidelines. The guidelines are used to determine eligibility for certain government programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly food stamps). The guidelines don’t vary based on age or number of children. The thresholds are used to measure poverty. The thresholds are based on three times the cost of a minimum food diet in 1963, adjusted for inflation.

To be considered “in poverty” in the US, a household’s income must be below the threshold.

To be considered eligible for some government assistance programs, a household’s income must be below (or below a certain multiple) of the poverty guideline.

One of the ongoing concerns in the US is racial disparities in poverty (as a note, these categories are the identifiers used by the US Census Bureau):

In addition to the official poverty measure, the US Census Bureau also calculates a Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM.) You can read more about the differences here, but one of the interesting things the SPM lets us see is how certain safety net programs and benefits help alleviate poverty. It also allows us to estimate how much certain costs contribute to poverty. In the chart below, we can track the change in the number of people in poverty when each element individually is included. For example, we can see in the chart that SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) helped keep about 2.5 million people out of poverty in 2019.

U.S. Food Security

Turning to food security in the United States, we can see a slight decrease from 2018 to 2019. The USDA uses the term “food insecurity” instead of “hunger” to capture more accurately the situation for most people in the US. Food insecurity means that at some point during the year, a household lacked access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. Chronic hunger, the kind we’ll get to when we turn to global hunger, is relatively rare in the US. The phrase the USDA uses is “recurrent not chronic,” which means that households experience periods of food insecurity throughout the year, but this is usually not persistent day-to-day. For many, periods of food insecurity come at the end of the month (when benefits run out) or during seasons when work is harder to come by.

In the US in 2019, almost 11% of individuals were food-insecure. This is about 35.2 million people.


Child food insecurity in the US is really hard to measure for a couple reasons. First, children, especially young children, are usually the last people in a household to experience food insecurity. Often, adults or older children will give up their food to ensure the younger ones have enough to eat. There are also some programs specifically geared toward school-age children that can help, like the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs. Because of the difficulty in measuring child food insecurity, the notes on the slide are carefully phrased. We can say how many children lived in households where children and adults faced food insecurity, though the data from the USDA don’t allow us to say for sure that every child in that household was food insecure.

The situation for people facing very low food security in the US is concerning. Of the 5.3 million households reporting very low food security,

  • 48 percent said that an adult in the household lost weight because they couldn’t afford food;
  • 36 percent said that an adult did not eat for a whole day because there wasn’t enough money for food; and
  • 97 percent said that an adult had reduced the amount of food they ate because they couldn’t afford sufficient food for every household member.

Global Poverty

Global extreme poverty is defined as income below $1.90 per day. The numbers point to some tremendous progress since 1990, when about 35 percent of people worldwide were experiencing extreme poverty. The biggest contributor to this decline, according to the World Bank, has been economic growth, particularly in Asia.

This does tend to miss another trend in global poverty, though. Fewer and fewer people are living today in what might be called “low-income” countries. What this means is that there needs to be more of an emphasis on poverty within middle- and high-income countries. Because of this, the World Bank has started measuring poverty at higher levels, since participation in a labor market in a middle-income or high-income is more expensive than in a low-income country. The general decline in the graphs also doesn’t clearly show that progress against poverty worldwide has been slowing in the last few years. Keeping the decline from leveling out will take more investment and more concerted, coordinated efforts.

Global Hunger

While poverty has declined, the same can’t be said for hunger. (We’ll get to how COVID-19 has made this even more troublesome later.)  The most recent data we have is from 2019, so this doesn’t include the impact of the pandemic yet.

The rate of undernourishment globally has remained pretty stable since 2014. Before then, the world made some good progress, bringing the rate of undernourishment down from over 12% in 2005 to less than 9% in 2014. But in the last 5 years, the rate has crept up from 8.6% to 8.9%, or about 687.8 million people.

This slowed progress means, sadly, that we are no longer on track to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger.

The next slide shows some of the key drivers of hunger and poverty around the world. Some of the biggest causes are conflict and climate change. Climate change, for instance, is expected to drive 68-132 million people into poverty over the next ten years. (See this earlier post for a discussion of some of the ways climate change causes hunger.)

One of the interesting things the World Bank found in its research is the complexity of vulnerability to climate events. People living in poverty are not necessarily more likely to experience major climate events, but they are less likely to have the resources needed for resilience. They are more likely to have lower quality housing, more likely to be dependent on fragile infrastructure (such as unpaved roads), more vulnerable to food price increases, more dependent on agriculture and so on. So, people in poverty will not necessarily experience more climate events, but they will be more vulnerable to the short- and long-term consequences of them.

Just one note here on trade policies. Policies that protect local producers are important to ensure a fair marketplace. But these policies also tend to protect crops such as cereals and grains. This can lead to a dearth of affordable nutrient-rich vegetables, fruits and higher-quality starches. Remember, undernourishment is not just about how many calories we consume but what kinds of calories we can access. Trade policies can play a critical role in this, both for the better and the worse.

COVID-19 Impacts

Global Impacts

There is no way of sugar-coating this. COVID-19 is causing hunger and poverty to rise at an incredible pace. The problem isn’t just how many people are affected but how quickly we were affected and how many industries were impacted.

One thing to remember is that these are estimates. We have not yet received reliable numbers, so these are projections. They’re very solid projections, but they are still just projections. Another thing to keep in mind is that, while news media may report these estimates under the collective term “hunger,” the organizations creating these estimates aren’t always talking about the same thing. There have also been big problems with collecting data, obviously.

Let’s start with how COVID-19 impacts hunger. There are four big categories of impacts.

First, food production. Agriculture and food processing require a lot of human labor. With limited mobility, workers aren’t able to get to work. If they get sick, they can’t work. Plants may shut down, too, so there is a shortage of pathways for getting food from farms to tables and stores. The International Food Policy Research Institute notes that people in poverty are most affected in this category because they are dependent on their labor for income. When they can’t work, they don’t get paid.

Next, food utilization. This has eased a bit over the last year, but with trade barriers in place to prevent the spread of COVID, countries that are dependent on exports from other countries can’t get the food they need for markets. With hoarding of food, there is also a shift toward shelf-stable goods, which are not always the healthiest.

Third is food access, and this is the category that is hardest hit. Markets have closed, we’ve seen supply chain bottlenecks, and consumers have less money to spend. We saw this in the US last year, when processing plant closures led to bottlenecks that created shortages of chicken and beef in stores. There was plenty of meat being produced, but it couldn’t get to markets where we could buy it. We’ve also seen some concerning increases in food prices over the last year. That’s good for some farmers, but not great news for most folks around the world, whose income leaves them very sensitive to changes in food prices.

Last, social protection. As of last Fall, 73 countries had postponed elections or referendums, which makes them socially vulnerable. Also, many countries lack robust social safety nets, so there aren’t protections to help people weather the economic risks of the pandemic. And, of course, the pandemic has closed feeding sites and has forced healthcare programs to shift from nutrition and other priorities to COVID response. We have to remember that even as we deal with COVID, problems like waterborne illnesses, HIV/AIDS, and malaria are still significant issues.

The economic impact is expected to be severe, though it won’t be equally felt by everyone.

The World Bank estimated that in 2020, COVID would cause a contraction of about 4.4% of global GDP. The consequences are widespread, too. Informal workers, especially, have been hard hit by lost income. Remittances, monies that are sent from workers in one country to families or dependents in their home countries, are down significantly. These were expected to decrease by about 20% in 2020. Women worldwide may be the hardest hit group, because they tend to be overrepresented in particularly vulnerable occupations, such as healthcare and home care, and because they face an added risk of violence at home during shutdowns. One note is worth making here. The World Food Programme’s observation about the economic conseuqneces being more severe than the disease itself is included on the slide. But it is important to remember that these impacts are being measured with the restrictive measures put in place to slow the pandemic in mind. Without these restrictions, the disease itself would also have severe impacts, including much wider loss of life.

All this combines to make some pretty stark projections for poverty worldwide.

The current number of people living in poverty is 689 million. If global GDP contracts by 5%, then an additional 88 million people will have been added to that number by the end of 2020. If global GDP contracts by 8% (the high end of estimates), then we will be looking at an increase of 115 million, or a total of 804 million people in poverty. Remember, these were estimates for the end of 2020. With the pandemic still raging into 2021, these projections may be worse now, and in fact, some data suggest that global GDP already contracted by more than 5% by the end of last year.

Now to hunger. Last year, there were two estimates floating around that seem to have caused some confusion. Back in April 2020, the World Food Programme (WFP) announced that the number of people facing hunger could double by the end of the year, to 265 million.

“But, wait!” you might say, “I thought the number of hungry people was almost 690 million.” What the WFP was referring to is the number of people facing what is called “crisis-level hunger,” based on a classification called IPC/CH Phase 3. This is, as the term implies, a short-term crisis of hunger, not the long-term undernourishment we refer to typically as “hunger.” The estimate is based on the number of people who are vulnerable to a crisis (in the earlier phase of IPC/CH) falling into crisis-level hunger in 2020.

An estimate that more closely tracks with what we have been calling “hunger” is the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO) estimate of 83 to 132 million people. This maps to the statistic that ELCA World Hunger and other organizations use to refer to “people who are hungry,” namely the number of people who are undernourished.

So, the 265 million people from the WFP’s estimate could become part of the population that is chronically undernourished, but the two estimates refer to different things. The most consistent way to talk about COVID’s impact on hunger, then, would be to say that the number of people who are chronically undernourished could have grown by 83 to 132 million by the end of 2020, while as many as 265 million more people could be facing a hunger crisis. We’ll need to wait for new data later this year to see how close the estimates were.

The key point here is that the most conservative estimate was that both hunger and poverty each grew by about 12 percent in the last year. That is a staggering number.

And, as the slide mentions, there is not a single root cause of hunger that is not untouched by the pandemic, from employment to health care to food access to climate change. Everything is affected.

Domestic United States

The news for the US isn’t much better, though federal legislation (through the CARES Act, the HEROES Act and the COVID relief included in the spending reauthorization bill) have masked some of the possible effects of the pandemic. Using Census data on poverty and income, the US Department of Health and Human Services estimated in October that poverty would grow to 10.9% by the end of the year, with a big jump in the Fall and early Winter. As you can see in the slide, though, the rates and estimates reflect what we already know about racial disparities in poverty in the US:

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) did an analysis of economic vulnerability that was really disheartening. FRAC estimates that almost 50% of adults in the US either lost their own job or were “on the edge,” which means they experienced a loss of income or reduced hours, expected to lose their job, or had a household member lose their job during COVID.

So, what does this mean in the US? First, estimates suggest that domestic hunger has already doubled or tripled since the start of the pandemic. More than a quarter of US adults are economically insecure. Importantly, the social safety net – including increases to or easing restrictions of programs like SNAP and WIC, eviction moratoria, and the expansion of the school meals program for children – have been working. Sort of. They aren’t enough, and many of the programs still aren’t available to everyone. But they have helped dampen some of the effects of the pandemic. That’s important to remember. These estimates and projections are what we have with this legislation. One can only imagine what would have happened without it.

One of the most worrisome trends is in food security in the US, which has spiked incredibly since early 2020. What is very concerning here is that we may be seeing a shift from “recurrent not chronic” hunger in the US to chronic hunger for many people.

And there we have it. We are still using the data available to us last year, covering hunger and poverty from 2019, generally, but we know that the situation has dramatically worsened, even since these reports were published. In the US, vaccination has given some a measure of hope, but access to vaccines and treatments is still far below what it needs to be in many places around the world. We are far from the end in terms of the economic impact of this. We need only recall how long it took the US to recover from the Great Recession (nearly a decade). The economic impact of COVID is much broader and deeper than even this. We have a long road ahead, as a country and a world.

Sometimes, faithful hope can be like standing on the deck of a ship watching as the port gets nearer. And sometimes, faithful hope is like clinging to a float in the middle of the ocean. We need to be honest about the projections we are seeing, but in times like these, we also need to cling in hope to what we are equally assured of by faith.

We don’t need to change the story; we just need to be faithful to the story we trust in by faith. The only future that has been written in stone is a future without hunger and thirst.

We give thanks for the work that many of you are doing to address this deep, deep need, through your local ministries, advocacy, generosity and through the work we do together as ELCA World Hunger. May God continue to make a blessing of your efforts.

You can download the slides for this presentation here: ELCA World Hunger Hunger and Poverty Statistics for 2020


Hunger and Poverty by the Numbers


Synod assembly season is in full-swing in the ELCA, and many readers of this blog will be helping raise awareness about hunger and poverty among their fellow Lutherans in the coming weeks.  Outside of assemblies and events, we often are asked for statistics and facts about hunger and poverty for congregations and groups.  So, ELCA World Hunger’s education team has put together a presentation with stats on global and domestic hunger and poverty that you can share.

The stats in the slides are from the most up-to-date sources we have.  This will differ for each of the four areas: US hunger, US poverty, global hunger, and global poverty.  Each of the sources we used are listed in the second slide, so you can read more about the measurements.  Follow the link at the end to download the whole presentation.

Thank you for all you do to help your community learn more about hunger and poverty and how together we can work for a just world in which all are fed!




How many people in the US were living in poverty in 2014?


Food insecurity means lacking access to sufficient amounts of affordable, healthy foods to live an active life.  In the US, food insecurity tends to be “episodic,” which means that there may be times when people can’t access the food they need.  This may be because of seasonal work or insufficient benefits that run out before the end of the month.


What percentage of people in different age groups experience poverty in the United States?


Global hunger tends to be chronic, rather than episodic, which means that hunger is often a daily reality, leading to problems like malnutrition and stunting. The good news is, the number has fallen in the last 30 years.  The bad news is, it is still too high.


How prevalent is undernourishment in different regions of the world?


The World Bank has begun using a new standard for global extreme poverty – $1.90 per day. This line better reflects real costs of food, clothing, and shelter around the world.  Again, the number is falling, with the World Bank projecting that about 700 million people will be living in extreme poverty in 2015.  Hopeful, but there is more work to be done.


To download the presentation, click here.