Black and struggling to afford food

There's a good news/bad news story for American pantries.

While fewer Americans say they are struggling to afford food, black families are twice as likely to say they've had times when they didn't have enough money to buy groceries, according to a Gallup poll.

So far this year, 17.2 percent of U.S. adults report that they have struggled to afford food during the past 12 months, down from a six-year peak of 18.9 percent, which was reached in 2013. That may indicate an overall strengthening of the economy, with more Americans employed and minimum wages rising in some states. Still, stark disparities remain, especially when viewed through the lenses of income and race, the report found.

Blacks are the most likely to report struggles with affording food, with 29 percent of African-American adults citing stresses in putting food on the table. When it comes to white Americans, only 13.3 percent cite affordability issues. The least likely racial group to struggle with affording food in the U.S. are Asians, with 7.4 percent saying they didn't have enough money in the last year to buy food.

"This pattern may be partially related to income," Gallup notes. "Black households make 67 percent of the national average."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2013 the median household income among whites was $58,270, $40,963 among Hispanics and $34,598 among blacks. It was highest among Asians, at $67,065.

The overall improvement in Americans' ability to put food on the table coincides with falling enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. In 2013, there were 47.6 million Americans receiving food stamps, which has declined to 46.5 million this year through October.

The country's unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent, the U.S. Labor Department said on Friday. While the job market is more robust, wage growth has been lagging, and as a result has barely kept up with inflation.

Despite the economic improvements, many of the country's poorest are still struggling to afford food, with Gallup finding that 40.3 percent households with less than $24,000 in annual income say they've had times when they haven't had enough money to pay for groceries.

The group with the biggest improvement was households earning between $24,000 to $47,999, with 19.9 percent of that group struggling to afford food this year, down from 22.4 percent in 2013.

Still, Gallup said the findings are a reason for optimism.

"The percentage of Americans who say they lacked enough money to afford food over the previous 12 months has returned to pre-recession levels, an encouraging sign that those who previously struggled to meet their basic needs may be feeling the positive effects of the recovery," the polling organization said.