Socioeconomic and Demographic Characteristics
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Socioeconomic and Demographic Characteristics
Profile of Community Food Resources
Assessment of Household Food Security
Assessment of Food Resource Accessibility
Assessment of Food Availability and Affordability
Assessment of Food Production Resources
Last updated April 13, 2010.
Socioeconomic and Demographic Characteristics
This section presents data suggested by the “Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit” (Cohen 2002). The USDA studies “Household Food Security in the United States” (2008) and “Socio-Economic Determinants of Food Insecurity in the United States” (1998) as well as “Food Insecurity and Disability: Do Economic Resources Matter?” (Huang, Guo and Kim 2010) provide information on groups who experience elevated levels of food insecurity. This gives focus to socioeconomic and demographic investigation suggested by the toolkit and also guides the additional study of home ownership, educational attainment, and disability. The pamphlet “Healthy Eating: Access Makes a Difference” influenced the addition of fruit and vegetable consumption to this section.
Data are taken from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2006-2008 American Community Survey and the 2000 Census with the exception of data for fruit and vegetable consumption, which comes from the 2007 or 2006-2008 Behavioral Risk Factor Survelliance System survey of the Illinois Department of Public Health. Additionally, each chart cites from which study the information is taken. Government and academic publications, government websites, and interviews with community members provide information on how the characteristics contribute to food security and enable speculation on what the data means for East St. Louis residents.
Below are graphic displays of each of the characteristics related to elevated levels of food insecurity for East St. Louis. For comparison, statistics for the City of East St. Louis, the State of Illinois, and the United States are shown.
Nord et al. show in Household Food Security in the United States that households at or below the national poverty level experience higher-than-average rates of food insecurity. Their data comes from a special supplement to the Current Population Survey conducted by the US Census Bureau in 2007.
The US Census Bureau calculates poverty for families and individuals by comparing income over the previous 12 months to one of 48 possible poverty thresholds. Thresholds are not geographically sensitive (they are consistent throughout the United States). The thresholds are updated annually for inflation using the Price Index for All Urban Consumers and were originally developed from 1963 to 1964 (U.S. Census Bureau 2009). The income threshold under which a family is determined to be in poverty depends on the number of members in the family, the age of the householder for certain families, and how many family members are children. The US Census Bureau’s poverty thresholds for 2008 range from $10,326 (for one person over the age of 65 living alone) up to $47,915 for a family of nine or more people with one child (U.S. Census Bureau 2009). If a family is determined to be in poverty, every member of the family is considered in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau 2008).
Poverty has a direct effect on food security since food insecurity results from insufficient resources. Rose et al. also note that insufficient resources may prevent a household from being able to afford transportation to a food store (Rose, Gunderson and Oliveira 1998)Nord et al. found that 39.9% of households whose income falls underneath the poverty threshold are food insecure, 14.9% of whom have very low food security. However, it is not just those households who fall under the poverty threshold who have increased risk of food insecurity. The study also found that 28.7% of households with a household-income-to-poverty-threshold ratio of 1.85 (that is whose household income is 185% the poverty threshold or lower) are food insecure, while only 5.5% of households above that income bracket experience food insecurity.
Poverty rates for East St. Louis, the State of Illinois, and the United States are shown in the chart below:
East St. Louis has a poverty rate greater than three times the state rates of poverty for all age categories and also the national rate for people ages 65 and older. More than a third of all East St. Louis citizens are reported to be in poverty, including almost half of all related children ages 5 to 17. It is likely that inhabitants of East St. Louis suffer from higher rates of food insecurity than other US citizens due to having fewer monetary resources for acquiring food.
The American Community Survey also found that East St. Louis has very different employment patterns than Illinois and the nation as a whole. While Illinois and the U.S. had unemployment rates of 4.7% and 4.1% respectively, 9.4% of East St. Louis citizens were involuntarily out of work, indicating that there are likely fewer employment opportunities for those seeking jobs. Proportionately more inhabitants of East St. Louis are not in the labor force- about half in the city, versus about a third for the state of Illinois and the nation as a whole. A small subset of the increased number of people not in the labor force may be composed of people who have become disenfranchised after being unable to find a job, or perhaps have stopped seeking a job because of a disability (see section on disability below). More of this subset is likely composed of senior and young citizens.
As can be seen in the age distribution of East St. Louis versus Illinois and the United States (see section on age below), East St. Louis contains more young (ages 0-19 years) and older people (ages 55-84 years) who may not be as able to contribute to household income as adults of ages 20-54, proportionately fewer of whom live in East St. Louis as compared with the state and the nation as a whole.
The economic data for East St. Louis suggest that residents may not have adequate financial resources to purchase food. Relatively fewer people of working age and fewer job opportunities likely contribute to the problem. This suggests that, from an economic standpoint, a high proportion East St. Louis residents may suffer from food insecurity.
Households headed by someone over 60 years of age tend to have greater food security than those with younger heads of house. Seniors may have access to savings and may have paid off their mortgages, meaning they have more income than is reflected by income levels alone. The elderly also have fewer food energy needs. Unfortunately, however, Rose et al. suspect that seniors may not assess themselves as food insecure even when they are, partially because the elderly experience less physical sensation of hunger. Less mobility, lack of food preparation skills in recently widowed elderly men, and reluctance to use food stamps are characteristics that increase the chance for seniors to suffer from food insecurity. (Rose, Gunderson and Oliveira 1998)
Food insecurity is about twice as prevalent in black or African American and Hispanic households as compared to the national average (Nord, Andrews and Carlson 2008). Race relates back to household income because on average, black or African American and Hispanic households have lower incomes than whites (Rose, Gunderson and Oliveira 1998). Lower incomes for minority groups and the prevalence of food insecurity in their numbers show the importance of recognizing the effects of racism on food security in the United States. “In US history,” Rachel Slocum writes, “Racism has a fierce resilience affecting the educational and economic opportunity, political representation, health, income, wealth, and social mobility of people of color.” Because of racism’s prevalence in the United States’ past and present, it is built into the structure of US society: in social norms, the economic system, the built environment, language, policy, and of course, the food system. It is crucial, argues Slocum, to recognize the effect racism has had on communities of color—the legacy of disorganization, disempowerment, and perpetual poverty tied to a lack of control—that today plunge proportionately more minorities into food insecurity (Slocum 2004).
Race and ethnicity data for East St. Louis is not available for the 2006-2008 community survey, so data for this section are a bit dated. However, the general trend, that East St. Louis has many more black or African American citizens than any other racial or ethnic group, remains unchanged. Many more East St. Louis residents, then, than in a community of similar size with a different racial and ethnic distribution, may suffer from discrimination in the form of fewer opportunities or are already suffering from structural racism. These disadvantages put many in the community at greater risk for food insecurity.
Homeowners are more likely to have food security than renters. Rose et al. explain that household ownership may correlate with several factors that can help a household achieve food security. First, household assets play a part in how able a household is to avoid food insecurity through fluctuations in income and food prices, as well =as through unpredictable, costly events (for example, medical expenses for a member of the household). Households who own a home tend to have more liquid assets than renters. Second, homeowners may have more time to ride out shortages in income without becoming food insecure because, if the household can only afford food or housing, foreclosures take more time than eviction. In addition, a small fraction of home owners enjoy higher disposable income thanks to a paid-off mortgage (Rose, Gunderson and Oliveira 1998).
East St. Louis has a higher proportion of renters than the State of Illinois and the nation as a whole; 51% of East St. Louis residents rent as compared to 30.2% of Illinois residents and 32.9% of the nation. This may suggest that many residents are less able to face abrupt changes in income, food prices, and household expenses with resiliency because they have few assets, putting them at risk for food insecurity.
Another factor specific to East St. Louis related to housing is the rate of a household’s income which must be spent on property taxes. East St. Louis has a property tax rate of 12.5%, the highest in the state of Illinois (ESLARP 2009). This tax is paid directly by homeowners and passed indirectly on to renters, diverting dollars from all residents which may be needed for food.
Homes with high school graduates as the head of the house tended to have less food insufficiency than those headed by non-graduates. Educational level effects current and future income, and also may tie into the food preparation, purchasing efficiency, and nutritional knowledge of the household (Rose, Gunderson and Oliveira 1998). East St. Louis has a similar proportion of high school graduates as Illinois and the nation (28%, 28.4%, and 29.6%, respectively). However, over a fifth of East St. Louis residents started high school and did not finish, and almost a tenth did not attend high school at all. This compares to less than a tenth for both the state and the nation in both categories. About six percent more East St. Louis residents started college and did not receive a degree than for the state or the nation. Less than half as many East St. Louis residents achieved a post-secondary degree (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Graduate, or Professional degree) than for the state or nation as a whole (15.7% versus 36.8% and 34.8%, respectively). In general, East St. Louis residents have not received as much education as citizens of Illinois or the United States.
As Rose et al. explain, lower education contributes to a risk of food insecurity because of lower potential earnings in addition to a possible lack of awareness about techniques for maximizing dollars spent on food. Willie Beard, a community member with experience in nutrition education in East St. Louis, explains that one of her main concerns for East St. Louis is for young mothers and senior citizens who do not know about budgeting, meal planning, and food preparation. The lack of motivation to prepare healthy meals, perhaps because of a lack of knowledge about their importance, compounds the problem. Young mothers and senior citizens without the know-how or incentive to prepare meals have convenience foods, microwaveable meals, and restaurant food as options to feed themselves and their families. These sources are often not as healthy as a home-cooked meal and are often more expensive (Beard 2009).
In the article, “Food Insecurity and Disability: Do Economic Resources Matter?” showed that an increase in food insecurity and the severity of the food insecurity is observed in households headed by people with disabilities. Huang et al. suspect that this increased prevalence is due to constrained economic resources (because of higher poverty rates, lower employment rates, and increased need for health services) and lower access to food resources. The increased need for health services among those who are disabled suggests that having a family member who is disabled may increase risk of food insecurity because financial resources may need to be diverted for health services (Huang, Guo and Kim 2010).
East St. Louis shows higher rates of disability in all age groups. The difference is especially prominent among people of working age, from 16-64. One of the types of disability measured by the U.S. census is employment disability. The U.S. Census Bureau defines employment disability as “a physical, mental, or emotional condition lasting 6 months or more” that makes a “person [have] difficulty working at a job or business” (U.S. Census Bureau 2004). The proportion of adults with employment disability in East St. Louis is over twice that of the state of Illinois (14.8% versus 5.6%) and almost twice that of the nation as a whole (14.8% versus 7.1%). The elevated rate of those with employment disability in East St. Louis implies that East St. Louis has more people at risk for food insecurity due to disability preventing their ability to work. The elevated rates of all people with disability in East St. Louis suggests that many more families in this community as compared to a typical community may have funds diverted from purchasing nutritious foods by the need to spend on health services.
Married-couple households with children experience higher levels of food insecurity than those without children; however, they do not experience higher food insecurity than the national rate (Rose, Gunderson and Oliveira 1998). Households headed by single mothers experience about three times the national average of food insecurity, while those headed by single men experience two times the national average. It is important to note that children are normally shielded from disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake when a family does not have enough resources to provide food for everyone. Nord et al. found that, nationally, children were affected in less than one percent of households with children (while 15.8% of households with children experienced food insecurity) (Nord, Andrews and Carlson 2008). Rose et al. explain that single parent households, in addition to having one fewer adult who can potentially work for income, also lack a spouse’s labor within the home (for food preparation and meal cleanup, for example). Having less time, single parents may need to substitute more expensive prepared foods (Rose, Gunderson and Oliveira 1998). Slocum points out additional adversity for women, who often receive lower pay for the same work. Women may, therefore, suffer greater economic and food insecurity (Slocum 2004).
Though East St. Louis has a slightly lower rate of families with children, the city has more single-parent families with children (the vast majority of which are headed by women) than do Illinois or the United States as a whole. Over a quarter of East St. Louis households are headed by single mothers with children under 18 years, compared to less than eight percent for Illinois and the nation as a whole. East St. Louis has a lower rate of single fathers with children under 18 years (less than 1% compared to over 2% for Illinois and the United States). East St. Louis also has a lower rate of married couples with children. Over a fifth of households in Illinois and the US are married-couple families with minor children, whereas only 4% of families in East St. Louis are thus. Though East St. Louis has lower rates of single fathers with children under 18 years (who showed food insecurity over twice the national rate) and married couple-families with children under 18 years (who showed elevated food insecurity as compared to households without children), single mothers with children under 18 years of age, who experience three times the national rate of food insecurity, are much more common in East St. Louis. It is likely that these women and, potentially, their children, suffer from food insecurity, potentially contributing to elevated rates of food insecurity for the East St. Louis community as a whole.
Fruit and Vegetable Consumption
The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFFS) is a program of the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) that began in 1984 with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The survey gathers information from Illinois adults about health conditions and risk behaviors by telephone questionnaires. IDPH uses this information as a primary source for insight on conditions related to causes of death in the general population. Though the survey is only as specific as the county level, it is useful in providing a general idea of East St. Louis.
The USDA recommends 2-3 cups of vegetables per day for women and men ages 19 and over (USDA 2009), and 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruit for women and men ages 19 and over (specific recommendations vary by age and sex) (USDA 2009). More fruit and vegetables are recommended for those participating in 30 minutes or more of physical activity above levels required by everyday activities. Eating recommended levels of fruits and vegetables is important. According to the CDC, eating more fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet can help reduce risk of diseases like some cancers, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and possibly heart disease (CDC 2008).
The BRFFS evaluates fruit and vegetable consumption for each county in Illinois. St. Clair county residents eat fewer fruits and vegetables than residents of the state as a whole; only 16.4% of St. Clair county residents report eating more than 5 servings of vegetables per day versus about a quarter of state residents. This may indicate food insecurity in terms of food resources and access (see community food resources and food accessibility sections for more information).
The City of East St. Louis exhibits almost all of the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics common to people who experience higher-than-average levels of food insecurity in the United States. The only characteristics not applicable are related to location in a metropolitan area and region (Nord, Andrews and Carlson 2008), (Rose, Gunderson and Oliveira 1998), (Huang, Guo and Kim 2010). It seems quite likely, therefore, that East St. Louis experiences higher-than-average food security and its resulting problems.
See the other sections for insight into the interrelating factors which may be contributing to food insecurity in East St. Louis.
Last updated on 7/22/2011