How Are Immigrants Faring After Welfare Reform?. Measuring the Need for Food Assistance


In order to measure the need for food assistance, USDA recently developed a "food security scale" to measure the extent of hunger, and the U.S. Census Bureau incorporated it into their annual April Current Population Survey (CPS). LANYCIS uses the six-question short scale recommended by USDA and included in the CPS (Appendix 3). Based on this scale, we categorize families as "food secure," "food insecure", and "food insecure with moderate hunger"(37) and use these terms throughout this part of the report. USDA provides the following definitions of these terms:

A food secure household has assured access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life. A household is food insecure if, at some time during the previous year, it was uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, adequate food sufficient to meet basic needs at all times due to inadequate household resources for food. Hunger is a more severe manifestation of food insecurity. Households are food insecure with hunger to the extent that one or more household members were hungry due to inadequate resources at least some time during the year (United States Department of Agriculture 2001).

In this study we equate food insecurity with a need for food stamps and other forms of food assistance. Food insecurity also offers a barometer of the hardship experienced by immigrant families in the nation's two largest cities.

In this part of the report we focus on food security among four types of nuclear families: (1) adults ages 18 to 64 ("working-age adults") and children, (2) elders age 65 and over with children (and possibly grandchildren), (3) working-age adults without children, and (4) elders without children. Many immigrants live in extended families or multiple-family households, often with brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins together in a single group. In the survey these extended and multiple family groups are divided into nuclear families. As a rule, only one nuclear family is sampled in each household. Only those nuclear families where at least one adult is a foreign-born, naturalized citizen or a noncitizen immigrant are included in our analyses in this report. We exclude families where all adults are temporary nonimmigrants (for example, students and tourists).

The sample is weighted to CPS population totals in order to make LANYCIS representative of all immigrant families in both cities.(38) LANYCIS does not, however, include families with only native-born adults. In order to make comparisons in benefits use and food security between immigrant and native families, we use the March 1999 and April 1999 CPS. Our weighting scheme makes LANYCIS comparable to CPS in terms of family composition and poverty level.(39)

LANYCIS asked respondents about the citizenship, documentation, entry status and current legal status of family members. A combination of answers to these questions and imputations allowed us to classify individuals and families into the four following statuses:

  • Naturalized citizens, who entered with any status, but had become citizens by the time of the survey.
  • Legal immigrants (or "legal permanent residents"), who had resident alien cards at the time of the survey, but did not enter as refugees or obtain asylum.
  • Refugees, who entered as refugees (or were granted asylum) and were either still refugees or legal permanent residents at the time of the survey.
  • Undocumented immigrants, who had no documents at the time of the survey, or their documents were expired or invalid.

Our classification of families is based on a hierarchy of these four categories (Appendix 2).(40)

LANCYIS also includes questions about country of birth, English language proficiency, and date of entry into the United States. The survey captured immigrants born in 75 countries in Los Angeles and 109 countries in New York. It was conducted in five different languages.(41) English proficiency is determined by a series of questions similar to those in the decennial U.S. Census of Population and Housing.(42) Family language proficiency is based on the English ability of the most proficient adult in the family. The date of entry is the date when the adult who entered the United States "most recently came to stay." "Tenure in the United States" is the amount of time between this date and the date of the survey, in years.

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