Developing strategies to end hunger
 

Fleeing Gender-Based Violence in Central America

Girls and violence

“In Honduras, violence against women is widespread and systematic,” U.N. Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, July 2014

Between October 2013 and July 2014 57,000 unaccompanied child migrants (UAC) arrived at the U.S. southern border. The large majority were from the Northern Triangle nations of El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. During this time, 22,000 children travelling with at least one parent also arrived from this region. The surge of children – alone and sometimes with a parent – is widely acknowledged as a humanitarian crisis.

Within the broader influx of children and mothers is an even greater increase in UAC girls. Since October 2013 there has been a 77 percent increase in unaccompanied girls going to the United States compared to only an 8 percent increase for boys. Over the same period more than 13,000 UAC Honduran girls under traveled to the United States compared with just over 7,000 for the previous fiscal year. For girls 12 and younger the increase has been even larger – 140 percent.

What would cause parents to go into debt to send their daughters on a dangerous journey more than 1000 miles long – sometimes alone – to the United States? United Nations interviews with child migrants finds that they are typically fleeing a combination of poverty and violence. Among Honduran UACs, the UN found that 44 percent included violence as a reason for migration and 80 percent included work and study opportunities and a chance to help their families.

Some of society’s most vulnerable members – women and girls face additional threats beyond the endemic violence and pervasive poverty in the Northern Triangle. During a recent visit to Honduras, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women Rashida Manjoo, said, “Violence against women is widespread and systematic. The climate of fear, in both the public and private spheres, and the lack of accountability for violations of human rights of women, is the norm rather than the exception.”

Honduras is the murder capital of the world and presents a dangerous environment for most Hondurans and particularly for the poor. But for women and girls the persistent fear is compounded by gender-driven violence and coercion. Manjoo said the country suffered from “high levels of domestic violence, femicide and sexual violence” with a 263 percent increase in the number of violent deaths of women between 2005 and 2013.

With weak rule-of-law and compromised police and judicial systems there are few options for Honduran women to defend themselves. There’s a laundry list of societal barriers facing women seeking justice: Lack of effective implementation of legislation, gender discrimination in the justice system, and the lack of access to services that prevent future acts of violence are just some of the gaps and barriers Honduran women face. With an estimated 95 per cent impunity rate for sexual violence and femicide crimes in Honduras, it shouldn’t be surprising that Honduran women and girls are compelled to flee the country no matter what the cost

  Andrew Wainer

Raising the Minimum Wage Can Help When Work Ends

We’ve talked before about how workers can benefit from an increased minimum wage, but the advantages continue even after health problems keep people from employment.  A higher minimum wage allows people to pay more into the Social Security system, therefore qualifying for increased disability and retirement benefits. 

Poster describing Social Security
1956 poster (via SSA.gov)

We can compare the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to what would happen if Congress passed the minimum wage bill it’s currently considering.  To make the numbers simple, assume that any wage changes would occur on January 1 each year.  The minimum wage would be $8.20 an hour in 2016, $9.15 an hour in 2017, and $10.10 in 2018.  After that, it would increase based on the Consumer Price Index; let’s assume an increase of 2.76%, which was the average increase over the past 25 years (1989-2013).  After rounding to the nearest nickel as the law dictates, that would be $10.40 in 2019, $10.70 in 2020, and $11 in 2021.

What would this really mean for someone who becomes disabled? Imagine a woman named Anne.  She started a minimum wage job on her 19th birthday, which was January 1, 2014, and works an average of 30 hours a week.  That’s not uncommon; in 2013, there were over 1.6 million people aged 16-24 in minimum wage jobs.

By the end of 2021, Anne would earn a total of $25,038 more if the minimum wage were increased as described above than she would if her salary stayed at $7.25 an hour.  From this additional income, she would contribute $1552 more than she otherwise would have into Social Security’s disability and retirement insurance system, if the withholding rate for those programs stays at its current level of 6.2%.

That extra investment in Social Security could pay off for Anne.  At the end of December 2021, Anne experiences a severe health problem that keeps her from working, she will qualify for higher Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.  Nobody likes to think about becoming too sick to work, but over 224,000 people aged 30 and under get SSDI; some of the most common reasons include injuries, mental illness, intellectual disabilities, and neurological disorders like epilepsy.  Experiencing medical problems is challenging enough without adding hunger and extreme poverty to the equation.

Using the detailed Social Security benefits calculator we can see what a difference a change in the minimum wage would make to Anne.  If the minimum wage increased as described above, she’d receive $1091 a month in disability benefits in 2022.  If the minimum wage stays at $7.25 an hour, she’d get just $1010 a month.  It might not sound like a big difference, and it will be a challenge to live on either amount in 2022, but raising the minimum wage will increase Anne’s disability benefits by more than 8%.  From the time Anne starts receiving SSDI (there is a five-month wait after becoming disabled) to the end of 2027, assuming annual cost-of-living adjustments of 2.76%, raising the minimum wage would provide her an extra $5859.  That’s money for housing, for transportation to the doctor’s office, for retraining in a new career.  It could be money for food. 

Raising the minimum wage would help people like Anne while she works, and also allows them to pay more money into the Social Security system.  This helps strengthen the system for current retirees and people with disabilities, and provides a stronger safety net if their working lives do end.

Stacy Cloyd

The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Minimum Wage: Two Sides of the Same Coin

What can $1247 a month buy you?  Imagine paying for housing, food, utilities, transportation, and other essentials on that amount, which is full-time work at the federal minimum wage.  Factor in little things that can bust a tight budget: a Christmas present for your mom, an occasional haircut, some tissues and medicine when you get a bad cold.  Could you afford to put aside anything for a medical emergency, a car repair, or retirement? Would you feel motivated and prepared to go back to school, or to get married and start a family?

coins falling into a person's cupped hands
Illustration by taxcredits.net

In this situation, don’t count on public benefits.  A single, childless person with this income would earn $2 too much for SNAP benefits and be $52 a month over income for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).  In many states, this minimum wage worker would also fall into a coverage gap, earning too much for Medicaid and not enough to receive a subsidy for private medical insurance. 

There are two big ways to help low-wage workers in this situation: raise the minimum wage, or expand the EITC.  They each have pros and cons, but the good news is we don’t have to choose. 

The EITC arrives once a year.  A lump sum can help pay off debt or create savings accounts for retirement or emergencies, but if it’s November and your car breaks down or your day care bill is due, it doesn’t do much good to have a bunch of money heading your way in April.  Researchers have studied the best way to have EITC payments arrive throughout the year and various forms of this “periodic EITC” are part of Rep. Paul Ryan’s and Sen. Marco Rubio’s anti-poverty plans, but this could be a lot more complicated, inaccurate, and burdensome for employers to calculate than a simple change in the minimum wage would be.

Another difference is while everyone earning the minimum wage would benefit from its increase (so would  many of those earning slightly more, who would get raises to keep their salaries above less senior workers) the EITC is highly targeted.  It’s more generous to married couples and people with children, it is only available to people aged 25-64.  Also, you have to file a tax return to get it.  This might be a good way to encourage people to file tax returns, which helps the government keep track of people’s earnings so they get the right amount of Social Security benefits later on.  The EITC also rewards people who get married and helps ease the financial burden of having kids; that’s good for them but not for younger, older, or childless workers.  There’s bipartisan support for expanding the program, but disagreement on how to pay for that. 

“How to pay for that” is the final difference between raising the minimum wage and expanding the EITC—but it’s not as big a difference as some might think.  Wages are paid by employers, some of whom may cut their profits or raise their prices if they are required to pay their workers more.  This means shareholders and consumers ultimately pay the price.  The EITC is paid by the government, from taxes and other revenues.  Either way, the costs get spread around quite widely.  So does the cost of inaction, of keeping wages and tax subsidies low.  When full-time workers qualify for SNAP or go to the emergency room without insurance, the public pays.

The EITC and the minimum wage are not opponents; they are two roads to the same place.  If the minimum wage goes up, fewer people will need the EITC.  And by increasing the number of people served by the EITC and the benefit they receive from it, we can help people attain the stability they need to train and apply for higher-wage jobs.  The minimum wage and the EITC are different, but they can both make a big difference.

Stacy Cloyd

Moving Forward from the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit

Last week, President Obama hosted the historic U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC. The summit, whose theme was Investing in the Next Generation, brought together 50 leaders from across the African continent, members of Africa’s civil society, private sector actors, and various faith communities. The three-day summit, August 4-6, focused on strengthening trade relations between the United States and African nations and opening new economic partnerships that are based on mutual responsibility and mutual respect.

The summit took place in the context of the Obama administration’s deepening engagement with African countries. In June 2012, President Obama released the U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, which outlined a comprehensive U.S. policy for the region. This strategy reflects and builds on many of the initiatives launched earlier in Obama’s presidency, such as Feed the Future. In addition, the Strategy supports the integration of existing U.S. government initiatives to boost broad-based economic growth in Africa, including through trade and investment.

SummitPhoto: White House

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), signed into law in 2000 by President Clinton, remains the most important piece of legislation that defines trade relationships between the United States and Sub-Saharan Africa. Since the legislation went into effect, the region’s exports have increased by more than 500 percent, from $8.15 billion in 2001 to $53.8 billion in 2011.  AGOA applies to only a small portion of these exports, since during this period, about 95 percent of Africa’s exports outside the continent were oil and gas.

AGOA’s achievements illustrate its great potential to spur economic growth. Agriculture-led growth, which has the greatest impact on poverty, is still urgently needed. The food price crisis of 2007-2008, followed by the worldwide economic downturn, have meant an increase in hunger and malnutrition and continued high poverty rates. An estimated 80 percent of Africa’s hungry and poor people support themselves through agriculture.

AGOA is due for reauthorization in 2015. Bread for the World championed the authorization of AGOA in 2000 and has remained engaged ever since. As Bread for the World President Rev. David Beckmann said during last week’s summit, facilitating regional trade that supports smallholder farmers and local businesses amplifies the efforts of U.S. government-funded programs such as Feed the Future and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). U.S. agriculture and trade policy – for example, the structure of import tariffs and an assortment of commodity payments made to U.S. farmers -- has sometimes undermined African countries’ efforts to use agriculture to take the first steps out of poverty. A robust AGOA, however, has the potential to boost the livelihoods of hungry and poor people while allowing them to determine their own development path and invest in the future generations.

During his visit to three African countries in 2013, President Obama announced two new initiatives designed to spur economic growth and investment on the continent. Trade Africa aims to both encourage greater regional integration and increase trade and investment between the United States and sub-Saharan African countries by aligning U.S. assistance with national government and private sector priorities. 

Power Africa, on the other hand, is led by the private sector. The goal of this innovative initiative is to double access to electricity in Africa, where more than 600 million people currently lack access. At the summit, Obama announced a renewed commitment to Power Africa, pledging a new level of $300 million in annual funding to expand the project’s reach. The new goal is to provide 30,000 megawatts in additional electrical capacity, increasing access by at least 60 million households and businesses. The president also announced $6 billion in new private sector commitments, bringing the total private sector investment in Power Africa to more than $20 billion. Some of the additional commitments are part of Beyond the Grid, a new sub-initiative announced at the U.S-Africa Energy Ministerial meeting in June of this year. Beyond the Grid will foster private investment in off-grid and small-scale energy solutions that focus on remote areas.

So far under Power Africa, 12 U.S. government agencies have begun working closely with African governments, both to identify and overcome the key legal, regulatory, and policy constraints to investment and to implement policies that will enable good governance and sustainable growth for Africa’s growing power sector. Early experience shows that carefully targeted capacity building in trade and investment aids efforts to reduce hunger and malnutrition and achieve other critical development initiatives. Significant progress is made possible, for example, by reducing post-harvest losses associated with lack of access to cold storage facilities.

The Africa Leaders Summit highlighted several opportunities for trade and investment to intersect with efforts to end hunger and malnutrition. To make the most of these opportunities, U.S. government initiatives should adopt a coordinated approach that is data-driven, goal-oriented, and strategic, and that builds on the experience of relatively new U.S. foreign assistance programs such as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and Feed the Future.

Faustine Wabwire

Data to End Hunger: How to Save 800,000 Infant and Toddler Lives Every Year

As Bread for the World Institute has noted in other posts in our Data to End Hunger series, frequently we are able to identify specific problems related to hunger without necessarily being able to select the solutions that will work best because "we just don't have the data." In fact, just a few weeks ago, our first-ever hackathon helped illustrate the fact that the global community is missing an enormous amount of data that could help drive much more rapid progress on women's empowerment.

In some cases, though, we *do* have the data. It's not new or controversial.

 Breastfeeding week
 Credit: UNICEF.

- See more at: http://news.thousanddays.org/maternal-child-health/breastfeeding-number-one-impact-last-progress/#sthash.3Y1FapP6.dpuf

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exclusive breastfeeding for six months is the optimal way of feeding infants. The evidence shows that improvements in breastfeeding could prevent the deaths of 800,000 young children every year. It is the most effective strategy we have to protect babies' lives.

Globally, only 39 percent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed, and only 20 countries have made any significant progress in the last decade - See more at: http://news.thousanddays.org/maternal-child-health/breastfeeding-number-one-impact-last-progress/#sthash.4s5Sz5nL.dpuf
It is startling then that these facts about breastfeeding are well established, yet it is progressing the least.  Globally, only 39 percent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed, and only 20 countries have made any significant progress in the last decade.  In Africa, only 15 percent of countries are currently on track to reach the - See more at: http://news.thousanddays.org/maternal-child-health/breastfeeding-number-one-impact-last-progress/#sthash.4s5Sz5nL.dpuf
It is startling then that these facts about breastfeeding are well established, yet it is progressing the least.  Globally, only 39 percent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed, and only 20 countries have made any significant progress in the last decade.  In Africa, only 15 percent of countries are currently on track to reach the - See more at: http://news.thousanddays.org/maternal-child-health/breastfeeding-number-one-impact-last-progress/#sthash.4s5Sz5nL.dpuf

"It is startling then that these facts about breastfeeding are well established, yet it is progressing the least," said Casie Tesfai, technical nutrition policy advisor for the International Rescue Committee. "Globally, only 39 percent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed, and only 20 countries have made any significant progress in the last decade. In Africa, only 15 percent of countries are currently on track to reach the Millennium Development Goals targets on breastfeeding."

For more from Tesfai, including her perspective on why efforts to advocate and support breastfeeding must focus not only on pregnant women, but on men, midwives, other healthcare workers, and community leaders, see her piece "Breastfeeding: Number One in Impact, Last in Progress."

In addition to the many events, updates, and reflections related to last week's celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, the attention of the development community was, of course, closely focused on events surrounding the Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC. There were reports on the administration's Feed the Future global food security initiative (which has now reached 9.4 million children in 12 African countries with improved nutrition), the New Alliance for Global Food Security, the commitments made at the recent AU summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, and a number of other hunger-related efforts.

Here is just one of the useful summaries of the Africa Leaders Summit as a whole, including a list of the "dizzying but encouraging array of new partnerships" that were announced. 

The buzz from last week's events was significant, and that's heartening: the global momentum on food and nutrition security is still very much in evidence. At the same time, the world also continues to largely miss a "no-brainer" opportunity to save children's lives.

Michele Learner

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