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Job loss and food insecurity during the Covid-19 pandemic

Stefani Milovanska-Farrington (The University of Tampa, Tampa, Florida, USA) (IZA Institute of Labor Economics, Bonn, Germany)

Journal of Economic Studies

ISSN: 0144-3585

Article publication date: 23 February 2022

Issue publication date: 24 February 2023




Living a nutritious lifestyle requires that people get a sufficient amount of nutrients, vitamins and minerals every day. Healthy dietary practices are related to a stronger immune system, better prevention and easier recovery from illnesses, lower blood pressure, healthy weight, lower risk of diabetes, heart problems and other medical conditions and improved overall well-being (WHO, 2020). Therefore, to maintain a strong immune system able to prevent diseases and ease recovery, optimal nutrition and healthy habits are of increased importance during a pandemic such as Covid-19. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 22 million Americans have lost a job between February and October 2020, increasing the unemployment rate from 3.5% in February 2020 to 6.9% in October 2020, reaching a peak of 14.7% in April 2020. Job losses during the Covid-19 crisis are likely to put lots of families at risk of malnutrition and food insufficiency and to further deteriorate the already existing food insecurity (Gundersen et al., 2018). This research explores the effect of a recent job loss between August and October 2020 on food sufficiency.


This research examines the impact of a job loss on nutrition and food safety. Specifically, this study explores the effect of a job loss during the Covid-19 pandemic on the level of family and child food sufficiency as perceived by the respondent, confidence about meeting family’s dietary needs in the four weeks following the interview, and an indicator of whether the food sufficiency status of the family has deteriorated or not. This study also determines the differential effect of a job loss by individuals who are still employed despite the loss relative to workers who remained unemployed after a job loss during the Covid-19 crisis. Subsample analyses based on ethnicities, genders and educational attainment are also performed to identify the most vulnerable groups.


The results provide evidence that a job loss is associated with a highly statistically significant deterioration of food sufficiency for families and children and a reduction in the confidence in food security for the near future. This effect is observed for all job losers, but from them, it is larger for the ones who are currently unemployed compared to those who are working. The association between a job loss and family’s nutrition insecurity is the greatest for Hispanic, males and people with some college. Children’s nutrition suffers the most for children whose parents have not completed high school. These results provide an insight into the adverse effect of Covid-19 on food security.

Practical implications

From a policy perspective, the results indicate that federal nutrition programs whose goal is to ensure that the dietary needs of Americans, and especially children, are met, which are most likely to benefit the Hispanic population, individuals with low educational attainment and individuals who remained unemployed after losing a job.


This study makes several contributions to the growing literature on food security. First, this study is novel in that it examines the effect of an ongoing event, specifically a labor market disruption as a result of a health and economic crisis, on families’ nutrition, and does so using the newest publicly available data designed to track the impact of Covid-19 on the American population. This is one of the first studies that investigates the forementioned impacts in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. This study further contributes to the literature by distinguishing between employed versus unemployed individuals despite a job loss and by studying distinct groups on the population. In addition, this study compares the effects of interest in the onset of the pandemic to a year later to examine the population’s adjustment to the crisis. The importance and relevance of the results for policy decision-making are also discussed in the paper.



Milovanska-Farrington, S. (2023), "Job loss and food insecurity during the Covid-19 pandemic", Journal of Economic Studies, Vol. 50 No. 2, pp. 300-323.



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