Hispanic households in the U.S. that trace their origin to Puerto Rico are more than twice as likely as Cuban-origin households to suffer from food insecurity, a new study shows.

The research shows that within the ethnic designation of Hispanic, significant differences in food insecurity exist, depending on family origin, as well as immigration status and length of time residing in the United States.

Families are said to be food insecure if at least once during a year they are unable to supply adequate nutrition for each member to lead an active, healthy life.

Nationally, 22.4 percent of Hispanic households were food insecure in 2014.

Of Hispanic subgroups, households of Puerto Rican descent living in the United States had the highest food insecurity rate – 25.3 percent. The rate for families of Cuban origin was 12.1 percent.


Other Hispanic subgroups measured in the study were Mexican descent (20.8 percent were food insecure) and Central or South American descent (20.7 percent).

The study also found that Hispanics living in rural areas or major cities were more likely to be food insecure than Hispanics living in suburban counties:

  • 21.3 percent of Hispanics living in principal cities were food insecure.
  • 24.3 percent of Hispanics living in nonmetropolitan counties were.
  • 18.8 percent of Hispanics in suburban areas were food insecure.

Hispanics comprise 55 million U.S. residents, or about 17 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Census Bureau. “Yet little is known about the food security conditions among Hispanic subpopulations as distinguished by origin, immigration status, time in the United States, household composition, income, metropolitan residence, and region,” the report said.

The report, written by Matthew P. Rabbitt, Michael D. Smith, and Alisha Coleman-Jensen, attempted to answer some of these questions.

Other findings of the study were the following:

  • Food insecurity was less prevalent among Hispanics who are U.S. citizens: 18.9 percent vs. 24.4 percent. About two-thirds of the nation’s Hispanic residents are citizens, according to the Census.
  • Citizens who were born in the United States were less likely to be food insecure than naturalized citizens.
  • Food insecurity declined with the length of time Hispanic adults had lived in the United States. “This reflects the higher naturalization rate of those who have lived in the United States longer,” the report said.
  • Hispanic food insecurity varied little by region or state.

While citizenship status might improve economic conditions, for Puerto Ricans (who are U.S. citizens by law), other factors probably had a stronger impact, Rabbitt told the Daily Yonder.

“The increased likelihood of food insecurity among Puerto Ricans, compared to other Hispanics, is also consistent with the fact that Puerto Ricans have the highest poverty rate among Hispanics [living in the 50 states],” he said in an email. “This reinforces the likelihood that income, employment, and educational attainment are likely the main factors explaining the difference.”

Data for the study came from the Food Security Supplement, a survey conducted for USDA by the Census Bureau as part of the Current Population Survey. The data was estimated for 2014 based on four years of surveys.

African Americans had the highest food insecurity rate (26.1 percent) of American ethnic groups. Non-Hispanic whites had the lowest, 10.5.

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