The Economics of Food Security: Investigating Price Inequalities for Food Access in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Authors: Phillip Warsaw*, University of Wisconsin
Topics: Economic Geography, Ethnicity and Race, Urban Geography
Keywords: Urban Economics, Food Access, Quantitative Methods, Spatial Economics
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 6:20 PM
Room: Southdown, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


One of the primary debates ongoing in the literature on food security is how to define the term in such a way that it is both operational and generalizable. The lack of such a concrete definition has led some scholars to question whether or not food insecurity truly represents a broad and systemic challenge to public health. In this essay, I enter this debate by deriving a definition of food security based on the implicit prices paid by households in residential markets for food access. Using the theory of the hedonic pricing model, I define food insecurity as the presence of unequal marginal implicit prices paid across space and/or socioeconomic characteristics (SES) for access to local food sources. I argue this definition provides a more robust characterization of the “functional” food access households have, as opposed to the standard definitions of food access which consider only the proximity of local food sources. Using 14 years (2002-2015) of publicly available land use and residential transaction data from the City of Milwaukee, I employ this definition to investigate potential inequalities in access to large, full service grocery stores. Using interaction terms between neighborhood racial characteristics and local groceries, I find evidence of potential food insecurity in neighborhoods containing a high proportion of African-American and Latino households, with households in these neighborhoods paying a premium between 2.39 and 2.71 percent on home prices for an additional local grocery store, compared to an average premium of 0.55 to 1.82 percent.

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