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Do the Poor Pay More for Food? Item Selection and Price Differences Affect Low-Income Household Food Costs

by Phillip Kaufman, James MacDonald, Steve M. Lutz, and David Smallwood

Agricultural Economic Report No. (AER-759) 27 pp, December 1997

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Low-income households may face higher food prices for three reasons: (1) on average, low-income households may spend less in supermarkets--which typically offer the lowest prices and greatest range of brands, package sizes, and quality choices; (2) low-income households are less likely to live in suburban locations where food prices are typically lower; and (3) supermarkets in low-income neighborhoods may charge higher prices than those in nearby higher income neighborhoods. Despite the prevailing higher prices, surveys of household food expenditures show that low-income households typically spend less than other households, on a per unit basis, for the foods they buy. Low-income households may realize lower costs by selecting more economical foods and lower quality items. In areas where food choices are limited due to the kinds and locations of foodstores, households may have sharply higher food costs.

Keywords: food costs, low-income households, food expenditures

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Last updated: Wednesday, January 30, 2013

For more information contact: Phillip Kaufman, James MacDonald, Steve M. Lutz, and David Smallwood

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