Food inflation has finally started to level off, but prices are still high following 2022's record setting year when food prices increased by 9.9 percent. That's sent more than 399,000 Americans every month to the Internet to search for food assistance information.
As part of their recent merger with Thrifty Guardian, news outlet Mama Say What?! conducted a study identifying which states most often look for information about food assistance programs online. This study analyzes Google Trends and Ahrefs to determine when and where people most need food security support.
That research shows Southeastern states are turning to government assistance more than any other region in the United States. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — originally called “food stamps” — is a helpful avenue for families looking for ways to stretch their dollars.
The Rising Cost of Food in America
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its latest Consumer Price Index on food on October 25, revealing a 3.7% increase in food prices compared to 2022. When assessing this increase against overall inflation, food costs rose an additional 1.5% more than the overall economy-wide inflation of 3.2% from last year.
Increased inflation, especially in food costs, is leaving its mark on the Southeast as residents continue to search for SNAP information online.
Food prices do vary depending on whether meals are purchased at the grocery store or while dining out. According to the latest Consumer Price Index (CPI), food-at-home costs increased by 2.4% compared to last year, while food-away-from-home costs rose 6.0% from last year. Although eating at home can save money, food-at-home prices still exceed the average inflation economy-wide.
The study by Mama Say What?! researchers shows which states are consistently seeking food stamp support and where food security is becoming an increasing concern in the country.
States With the Most Consistent Need for Snap
By analyzing four popular SNAP-related phrases, researchers scored each state's search popularity out of 400 and ranked them accordingly. Twelve-month and 30-day trends were examined to produce the rankings.
Notably, the two lists include nearly identical states, showing that eight of the top 10 states on both lists have sustained interest in learning about SNAP. On the 30-day list, every state that ranks is from the Southeastern U.S., showing a more prevalent need for food security support in that region than anywhere else.
States appearing on both lists include Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, and Oklahoma.
Louisiana is in first place on both the 12-month and 30-day lists , with a score of 377 and 304, respectively. It’s the only state with a score of over 300, indicating a substantially higher interest in SNAP information than any other state.
Of the four queries analyzed, “apply for food stamps” has the highest search volume per state.
On the 12-month list, the gaps between state scores are much narrower than on the 30-day list, indicating greater disparity among the areas facing higher levels of food insecurity.
Other States Seeking Support
Several states appear on one of the top 10 lists but not the other. This distinction indicates either a dip or a recent spike in that region's need for SNAP.
Appearing only on the 12-month list are the states of Maryland and Delaware. Maryland places eighth on the list, while Delaware secures the tenth place slot. The fact that these two states do not appear on the 30-day list shows the number of individuals looking for information on food stamps has recently decreased.
Delaware is the only state from the North featured on the list, reinforcing the trend that Southeastern states are struggling at the checkout counter more than those up North.
Kentucky and South Carolina are both on the 30-day list, but not on the 12-month list. This indicates a recent surge in searches for SNAP-related queries in these regions. Of all of the states on the list, Kentucky has the most significant recorded spike in searches overall, meaning this state's residents are feeling the most urgent rise in financial pressures, necessitating the use of SNAP.
Future Food Costs
Americans may not see much relief in the final months of 2023. The USDA predicts prices will continue to rise in categories like beef and veal, other meats, poultry, dairy products, fats and oils, processed fruits and vegetables, sugar and sweets, cereals and bakery products, nonalcoholic beverages, and other foods.
While the battle against inflation continues, more Americans may turn to government assistance to supplement their income.