While fully four years have elapsed since the most recent U.S. recession came to an end, many in the food industry would agree with those bemoaning the tough slog that has been the recovery. Throughout this period, concern has been expressed not only about a persistently high rate of unemployment but also high levels of underemployment – inadequate or part-time employment of those unable to secure better jobs.

Economic sensitivity in the grain-based foods industry has been heightened during this period by unusual weakness in a business normally characterized by resilience during such downturns. While sales volume declines in baking and other categories have been attributed to a range of diverse factors, recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture place increased focus on economic weakness, which probably should be a “primary suspect” for diminished demand. Studies by the Department’s Economic Research Service showed that the percentage of households with food-insecure children and an adult employed part time (and none full time) rose to 15.4% in 2010-11, up from 10.4% in 2006-07.

The sharp increase of food insecurity in underemployed households is of course of great concern to those families affected. That a growing segment of the public cannot afford to buy food also is of concern to the baking and food business and the supermarket, convenience store and food service sectors, all of which feel a severe pinch from even small declines in sales.