Non-Hispanic Asian households were twice as likely as non-Hispanic White populations to report not having enough to eat amid the pandemic because they were “afraid to go or didn’t want to go out to buy food,” according to an analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s experimental Household Pulse Survey (HPS).
All major race and Hispanic origin groups reported being more likely to experience food insufficiency because of the pandemic in April 2020.
There could be many reasons including living in a high-crime area, in food deserts where shopping is inconvenient or in rural towns where drives are long. Respondents might also face other fears such as racially motivated violence.
The non-Hispanic Asian population has generally followed the same trend as the non-Hispanic White population through March: consistently lower rates of food insufficiency than both the non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic populations.
But the causes of food shortages for non-Hispanic Asian and non-Hispanic White households differed.
There are many reasons someone may experience food insufficiency, defined as sometimes or often not having enough to eat. The most prevalent is the inability to afford food. But during the pandemic, there were other reasons people were unable to access food.
Of adults who reported food insufficiency in the previous week, the survey asked for the reason. The question offered a choice of responses, ranging from couldn’t afford it and couldn’t get out to buy it, to too afraid or didn’t want to go out, couldn’t get groceries delivered and stores didn’t have what I wanted.
At the end of March, non-Hispanic Asian respondents experiencing food insufficiency were less likely than food insufficient non-Hispanic White respondents to report that they couldn’t afford food, couldn’t get groceries delivered or that stores were poorly stocked.
These households were not significantly different in their likelihood of reporting that they were unable to get to the store.
However, non-Hispanic Asian respondents were much more likely than non-Hispanic White respondents to report going without food because they were afraid or didn’t want to go out to buy it.
Other than the question about fear of going to the store, the HPS did not collect the reasons for the fear that people reported was keeping them from getting the food they need.
There could be many reasons including living in a high-crime area, in food deserts where shopping is inconvenient or in rural towns where drives are long.
Respondents might also face other fears such as racially motivated violence. For example, according to the Department of Justice, anti-Asian violence has risen during the pandemic, including several well-publicized hate crimes.
This may explain why, while fear of going out for food among non-Hispanic White adults declined between the last quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, fear among non-Hispanic Asian adults did not.
However, as coronavirus has killed more than 600,000 people across the United States and infected over 34 million, there is also reason to think that fear of illness would keep people home from grocery stores.
While fear of the deadly virus may be keeping some home from the grocery store, it may also explain the higher vaccination rates among Asians in the United States.
In January, as vaccines began to be widely distributed, the HPS added questions asking whether people had received at least one dose of a vaccine or were planning to get it once available.
Comparing those who in late March had received the vaccine or reported they definitely will get the vaccine, non-Hispanic Asian respondents were more likely (85.6%) than non-Hispanic White (73.1%), non-Hispanic Black (63.6%) or Hispanic respondents (70.3%) to report they’d gotten at least one shot or definitely would when the vaccine was available to them.
As vaccines continue to become more readily available, the HPS will allow us to see whether increased access addresses any of the fears that respondents have reported thus far.
The HPS is designed to provide near real-time data on how the pandemic has affected people’s lives. Information on the methodology and reliability of these estimates can be found in the source and accuracy statements for each data release.
Daniel J. Perez-Lopez and Lindsay M. Monte are statisticians in the Census Bureau’s Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division.
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