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Government school lunch food subsidy

Codes and Frequencies

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LUNCHSUB identifies households where some or all of the children received free or reduced price school lunches.

Funded by a combination of Federal funds and matching State funds, the National School Lunch Program helps States provide a school lunch for all children at moderate cost. The National School Lunch Act of 1946 was amended in 1970 to provide free and reduced-price school lunches for children of needy families. The program is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through State educational agencies, or through regional USDA nutrition services for nonprofit private schools.

All students eating lunches prepared at participating schools pay less than the total cost of the lunches. Some students pay the "full established" price for lunch (which itself is subsidized); others pay a "reduced" price for lunch; and still others receive a "free" lunch. Students receiving free lunches live in households with incomes below 125 percent of the poverty level; students receiving reduced price lunches (10 to 20 cents per meal) live in households with incomes between 125 percent and 195 percent of the official poverty level. The data in the ASEC CPS do not distinguish between children receiving free versus reduced-price school lunches.

To collect information on the school lunch program, interviewers first asked whether any of the children (ages 5-18) in a household "usually" ate a hot lunch and, if so, the number of children doing so (ATELUNCH). If some children in the household usually ate hot lunch at school, the interviewer asked about whether any of the children received free or reduced price hot lunches, and, if "Yes," how many did so. See (FRELUNCH).

For some variables relating to means-tested government assistance, including LUNCHSUB, information was collected only from households whose estimated income fell below a given threshold. During the first month that a household entered the survey, and one year later, the CPS interviewer asked the respondent to estimate the family's total income in the past twelve months, by choosing one of fourteen broad categories. Only households in which the household members' combined income fell below a given level (e.g., under 30,000 dollars in the 1980s) were questioned about means-tested program benefits. Households with estimated incomes above the threshold were presumed to not qualify for or receive such benefits, and were not asked these questions, to limit the length of interviews. Households which were not questioned were coded as "no" for several variables relating to the receipt of means-tested benefits, including LUNCHSUB.


The variable is comparable across years.

Comparability with IPUMS-USA

In IPUMS-CPS, LUNCHSUB refers to children ages 5-18, who "usually" ate lunch and received free or reduced price lunches. In IPUMS-USA, the 2000 C2SS LUNCHSUB variable identifies households in which "any member of this household [was] enrolled in or receiving benefits from free or reduced price meals at school through the National School Lunch Program or the School Breakfast Program" at any time during the past twelve months. The data in IPUMS-USA thus cover a broader age range, include a second means-tested government food assistance program, and refer to a more precise reference period.


  • Households and group quarters with one or more children who usually eat complete hot lunch.


Years Jan Feb ASEC Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1980 – 2020 - - X - - - - - - - - -



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