Developing strategies to end hunger
 

211 posts categorized "Hunger Report"

Engaging Discussion Launches the New Hunger Report on Gender

  Photo for Hunger Report 2015

There was a lot of energy in the room -- particularly for a Monday morning -- as Bread for the World Institute released our 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish...We Can End Hunger, yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

Our understanding of several issues raised in the report, some older and some newer, was enhanced by the experiences and perspectives of our speakers: 

        Fouzia Dahir, executive director of the Northern Organization for Social Empowerment in Kenya, which works to help women from pastoralist backgrounds transition to agriculture and bring an end to gender discrimination;

        Victoria Stanley, senior rural development and land specialist at the World Bank, whose focus is on efforts to make development programs more fair and effective by ensuring that they have been seen through a "gender lens" (here's an example of the Bank's development work in rural Bangladesh);

        Gary Barker, international director of Promundo-US, which engages men and boys in several parts of the developing world in the effort to end gender discrimination, particularly violence against women;

        Andrea James, executive director of Families for Justice as Healing, which raises awareness of the toll that rising female incarceration rates in the United States takes on children and communties, and advocates for alternatives based on community wellness.

        Asma Lateef, director of Bread for the World Institute, just returned from ICN2, the second International Conference on Nutrition.

Many of the current barriers to women's empowerment have already been the subject of decades of struggle. For example, although the U.S. Equal Pay Act was enacted in 1963, women in 2014 continue to be paid less than men for the same work. The wage gap is a major cause of poverty: in fact, if it were closed, poverty would be cut in half among single mothers and their families.

Gender-based violence is another "old" problem that remains at epidemic levels. In many countries, a woman cannot  leave the house on errands, earn a living by working on her farm or traveling to a job in a nearby city, or sometimes even sleep at night without fear of violence. A fairly new and promising approach to the problem -- taken by male and female advocates alike -- is to engage with men, helping them to see how greater respect for women can help not only their wives and daughters, but themselves and their families as a whole. Adolescent boys and young men are often open to these messages.

Other barriers have become visible more recently, sometimes as a side effect of progress in other areas and the swift pace of change in women's roles in many societies. As Fouzia Dahir explained, in some Kenyan cultures, girls simply didn't go to school, let alone secondary school. When this changed fairly recently, bullying and lack of proper sanitation facilities emerged as obstacles that still stand between many girls and their hopes of an education. 

A significant amount of the energy at the launch was among the audience -- more than 100 professionals committed to gender equality, access to nutritious food for all,  and respect for human rights. Moderator Sandra Joireman, chair of Bread for the World's board of directors, and Bread President David Beckmann emphasized the opportunities now before us to move toward the goal of ending hunger by 2030. If we are to end hunger -- and secure women's rights as human beings -- global communities must work in collaborative ways to ensure that gender is no longer a barrier to developing and contributing to one's full potential, whether as a worker, a parent, a citizen, or any of a myriad of other roles.

Learn more about this year's Hunger Report and see interactive features at the 2015 Hunger Report website.

 Michele Learner

Second International Conference on Nutrition: Moving the Discussion Forward

In the 20 years since the first  International Conference on Nutrition (ICN), global awareness of the critical role of nutrition in human development has grown to record levels. Today, the dual problems of malnutrition -- undernutrition and obesity – are the focus of efforts by both governments and private companies. Undernutrition rates have dropped in the intervening years, but obesity has grown to the point where it now kills more than three times as many people as undernutrition. 

The first ICN was seen as an opportunity to bring leading nutrition scientists together with governments to address a growing problem. ICN2, being held this week in Rome, goes further by finalizing the wording of a Declaration on Nutrition, as well as details of its implementation, and seeking the signatures of the governments in attendance.

The proposed declaration is a pivotal document that, after reaffirming commitments made at the 1994 ICN and at World Food Summits, sets out specific plans of action and international targets that will lead to the eradication of all forms of malnutrition. Action items include reshaping food systems through public policy; improving nutrition by strengthening institutional capacity and encouraging collaboration among all stakeholders; promoting initiatives for healthy diets before pregnancy, through the 1,000 days period of early childhood, and in schools; and ensuring that a framework with actions and objectives is integrated into the 2030 global development agenda that will be finalized in the coming year.

Advocates are concerned about the very small role of nutrition thus far in this Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) process: there are more than a dozen goals and nearly 200 targets, but nutrition is mentioned only once. The declaration also asks the United Nations General Assembly for its endorsement and declares a “Decade of Action on Nutrition.”

Proposing such aspirational goals for ICN2 has led to wide-ranging discussions. Some have criticized the declaration’s lack of accountability and spending targets. Others have criticized its lack of emphasis on nutrition-sensitive issues such as water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and a lack of recognition that nutrition directly impacts health interventions.  Another point raised is that in order to make advances in nutrition, there must be economic solutions as well. Critics have also pointed out that in some countries, “donor interest in nutrition is waning.” It is in fact true that scaling up successful nutrition outcomes in a district, region, or country requires multiple-year planning and adequate funding.

One bright spot of ICN2 was Pope Francis adding his voice to the fight against hunger and malnutrition.  

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Pope Francis addresses political leaders at ICN2 Photo credit: FAO

In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel), Francis said, “We are scandalized” by not having enough food for everyone and the resulting hunger. In his remarks at ICN2 on November 20, Francis said that food, nutrition, and the environment must be viewed as global public issues at a time when nations are more tightly linked with each other than ever before. He admonished global leaders to make sure their pledges to assure food security for all citizens are put into concrete practice, saying that the right to a healthy diet is about dignity, not charitable handouts.

The U.S. government’s commitment to improved nutrition increased when it began to fund the Global Health Initiative (GHI), which is now complemented by nutrition components of the Feed the Future initiative. Recognizing nutrition as a concern that crosses traditional development sectors, USAID adopted and has begun to implement a Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy. Other government agencies and offices have begun working on a Global Nutrition Coordination Plan that will encourage collaboration and hopefully add value to the efforts of individual programs to improve nutrition. Finally, the House of Representatives has introduced H.R. 5656, the Global Food Security Act, which has a primary objective of reinforcing programs that “accelerat[e] inclusive agricultural-led economic growth that reduces global poverty, hunger and malnutrition, particularly among women and children….”

The objectives of ICN2, the policy goals of U.S. government nutrition strategies, and passage of H.R. 5656 are all reachable if we are, in the words of Roger Thurow, “outraged and inspired” to take action on global hunger, poverty, and malnutrition.

Scott Bleggi

The “Third Way” of Women’s Empowerment

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Policy discussions of U.S. development assistance that promote women’s empowerment tend to head in two directions: improving women’s ability to participate in the economy and increasing girls’ enrollment in school.

There’s no question that policymakers should indeed be talking about these dimensions of empowerment. But I wish they’d also talk about what I’ll describe as a “third way”: increasing the share of women leaders in government. Here we scarcely hear a word.

The eight Millennium Development Goals include a goal to promote gender equality and empower women. One of the targets is to increase the percentage of women in national parliaments to 33 percent. Globally, women currently hold about 25 percent of seats in national parliaments. Given that women are half the population, I think it’s fair to say that they are still grossly underrepresented in government leadership. In addition to the obvious injustice here, there are implications for efforts to end hunger and poverty. Experience worldwide shows that when women gain a larger share of political power, governments enact more policies that reduce gender inequalities and promote women’s empowerment.

Earlier this year I was in Rwanda, the only country in the world where women hold a majority of the seats in the national parliament. Sixty-three percent of Rwandan parliamentarians are women. One way countries have increased the share of women in parliament is by reserving a fixed percentage of seats for women. These countries include Rwanda, which reserves 30 percent of seats for women. But in the last three election cycles, women’s share of parliamentary seats has increased from 49 percent to 56 percent to 63 percent. Clearly, it’s more than the reservation policy that has brought a majority female parliament to Rwanda.

I went to Rwanda because I wanted to see the effects on policy development of having a majority of women in parliament, and I guess I wanted also to test my own assumptions about women’s leadership. I tend to think that the fastest way to reduce gender inequality and promote women’s empowerment is to elect more women to office. I’m all for improving women’s ability to participate in the economy and increasing enrollment rates of girls in school, but those are part of the longer-term strategy. A reservation policy allows a society to put gender equity on the fast track by giving a jolt to the status quo.

Having a female parliamentary majority has made Rwanda a more equitable society. For example, all proposed legislation is reviewed to determine whether it perpetuates or reduces gender bias. No piece of legislation that moves through parliament escapes this scrutiny. That’s the kind of jolt I’m talking about.

In the 2015 Bread for the World Institute Hunger Report, When Women Flourish…We Can End Hunger, we recommend that all U.S. development assistance include similar gender analysis – aimed at ensuring that policies and programs do not perpetuate gender inequalities or discriminate against women and girls. In practice, this would mean, for instance, that agricultural development assistance must serve female and male farmers equitably.

A major change like this might even produce a great enough seismic effect to affect how the U.S. government conducts domestic policy. Here in the United States, women hold less than 20 percent of seats in Congress. In the 1970s, when Congress was debating the Equal Rights Amendment, policymakers considered congressional reservations as a way of giving women more political voice. This was not the sole reason the ERA failed to gain ratification, but an association with the ERA may be one reason we scarcely ever hear members of Congress -- including women -- talk about political reservations as a strategy to increase the share of women in Congress.

It is difficult to imagine what the impact on legislation of a female majority in Congress would be. Perhaps there would be no difference at all, although I doubt it. There is too much room for improvement. Just one example: the United States remains the only developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave. I suspect that would change if there were a majority of women in Congress. Todd Post

Missing Data, Missing Women

Gender equality may be one of those things that we will all recognize when we finally see it. Until then, though, we need to have data that show whether or not there’s been progress. In fact, gender equality is a perfect illustration of why it’s so important to collect data on development outcomes in general. But what indicators are most relevant to measuring progress on gender equality? Inequality manifests in so many forms that a group of indicators, not just one or two, is most likely to show what’s really happening.

UN Women has identified 52 separate indicators as essential to telling the story of women’s empowerment. They range from the most obvious -- such as reductions in gender-based violence -- to some that might not be as obvious on first glance. For example, the number of female police officers or judges in a country says a great deal about whether women feel they have the support of law enforcement or the courts when bringing charges against perpetrators of gender-based violence.

For the 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish…We Can End Hunger, we decided on an unorthodox approach to using the 52 indicators. Instead of looking at the data presented, we looked for the data that is missing. Why? Because most developing countries, in virtually every part of the globe, have not collected much data at all on topics that are vital to gender equality. The amount of missing data is simply staggering: low-income countries are missing 78.5 percent of the data since 1990 on these 52 indicators.

Data can be used to tell a powerful story about almost anything, provided the storyteller has enough to work with. The lack of data is itself an outrageous story: we can have little or no understanding of how hundreds of millions of women in the developing world are faring because no one has been tracking the indicators that would give this information to governments, communities, and the entire global community.

We needed to figure out how to show what isn’t there. With the help of an incredibly talented group of volunteers, we came up with a compelling interactive visualization that will be available on the Hunger Report website on November 24.

  Missing woman

This image is a snapshot of the online tool we’ve created to illustrate how much data on women are missing. If all the data were available, the woman’s photo above would be entirely visible. This example is for sub-Saharan Africa. The interactive tool will allow users to do the same for all developing regions, seeing how countries compare with one another in how much data they are collecting. Todd Post

“Shared Prosperity” as Women’s Empowerment

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This is the second in a series that previews Bread for the World Institute’s 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish … We Will End Hunger. The report will be released on November 24.

Last time, I talked about gender discrimination. While it’s critical to identify the many facets of discrimination and their implications, naming the problem is just the first step in solving it. We have much to say in When Women Flourish… about solutions. It starts, as so many things do, with economic power and influence.

Bargaining power is what’s needed: women’s bargaining power as workers in the larger economy, and, in the household, as people who have the power to make decisions about economic issues that affect them and their families.

The majority of women in developing countries rely on farming for their incomes, but gender discrimination often puts them at a significant disadvantage. They are less likely than men to own the land they farm. They have less access to inputs and credit. They get less help from extension agents. These and other inequities reduce their productivity and hence their ability to earn an adequate income.

Earlier this year, my Institute colleague Faustine Wabwire and I were in Malawi on field research for this report. Our contacts at the National Smallholder Farmers' Association of Malawi (NASFAM) offered to show us how they work with women farmers to reduce the gaps in their bargaining power as compared to men.

Smallholder farmers operating independently have very little bargaining power in agricultural markets. Farmers form associations—which may have anywhere from five or 10 farmers to several hundred—to take advantage of economies of scale. When smallholders pool their resources, suppliers of seeds or capital who might not be interested in marketing to just one of them now see an entity worth dealing with. Together, farmers can purchase seeds, fertilizer, and tools and other infrastructure that no one would be able to afford by herself.

For example, one of the most common and most serious problems for farmers in the developing world is losing large shares of their harvests to spoilage. Farmers’ associations, however, can afford to build secure storage facilities that will accommodate all their members. The warehouse constructed by the group of farmers we visited with NASFAM had cut their post-harvest losses from 40 percent down to 5 percent.

What makes this an effort that enables women in particular to overcome economic barriers? Economic principles, of course, apply to farmers regardless of gender. But the gendered dimension of NASFAM’s program becomes clearer when we see how it affects individual households. In Malawi, men and women in the same household both farm, sometimes on the same small plots of land, but generally produce different crops and do not combine their incomes. Typically, men control cash crops, crops raised for sale such as tobacco in the case of the farmers we visited, while women control food crops that are consumed by the family.

This bifurcation of the family farm enterprise is inefficient and, because “women’s crops” are considered less valuable since they do not bring in money, it also reduces women’s influence over household spending decisions such as those on children’s health and education. So NASFAM has begun to encourage mixed-gender farmers’ associations. The associations are begun by women, but men are welcome to participate as long as they are willing to share decision making power with their female colleagues. One reason men join NASFAM associations is for the training in marketing and business operations that is provided. If men want to receive training that will increase the profitability of their farming, they must suspend their prejudices against women.

Husbands and wives are expected to work together, making decisions mutually about their farm enterprises. Along the way, the husbands learn that their wives are quite capable decision makers. Ideally, once they see the gains in their livelihoods, husbands become more open to sharing incomes and sharing the household chores that traditionally fall mostly to their wives. We heard many testimonials and a lot of laughter as men described how they’d come around.

In the 2015 Hunger Report, we share more about NASFAM associations and other examples as we explore how to get from recognizing that “we must reduce barriers to women’s economic empowerment” to actually accomplishing this in real communities. Todd Post

Benefits of Addressing Neglected Tropical Diseases and Malnutrition in Tandem

(Blog was originally submitted to the Sabin Vaccine Institute and the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases in support of their policy brief Toward a Healthy Future: Working Together to End Neglected Tropical Diseases and Malnutrition, endorsed by 22 global health organizations)

Nutrition is a foundational element in human development, and a growing body of evidence shows that it is a vital link across international development sectors. Although nutrition was once solely the domain of public health professionals, development assistance practitioners in agriculture, education, gender, and water/sanitation/hygiene (WASH) are realizing that their successful project outcomes can have a direct and positive effect on nutrition.

Does a value-chain project in horticulture or livestock production improve nutrition? What about efforts to keep girls in school an extra year or two before they assume family and village responsibilities? Does improved hand-washing and food preparation hygiene improve nutrition?  The answer to all these questions is a resounding yes!

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WASH activities are nutrition-sensitive! Photo credit: Sabin Vaccine Institute

The number of people in the world affected by at least one of the 17 NTDs listed by WHO is approaching 1.5 billion, and we know now that NTDs can damage a person’s nutritional status at any point in life. Worse, contracting an NTD can cause infection and other problems that cancel out or even reverse efforts to improve nutrition.

As nutrition started to be at the core of development assistance across sectors, it was clear that a comprehensive strategy to coordinate efforts was necessary. In May 2014, USAID announced its Nutrition Strategy. Bread for the World Institute participated in its development, along with other members of the nutrition stakeholder community (advocacy and operational partners of USAID).

The nutrition strategy recognizes the essential role of nutrition in human development (especially during the “1,000 Days” period from pregnancy to age 2). Moreover, the strategy acknowledges that high rates of chronic malnutrition can cause significant losses in a nation’s GDP and impose other economic costs. The USAID strategy also lays the foundation for the development of a comprehensive Global Nutrition Coordination Plan among all U.S. government offices.

The strategy treats nutrition as “multi-sectoral”-- meaning that effective nutrition interventions can be made not only in health programming, but also in agriculture, education, and WASH projects. The most important direct nutrition interventions include 11 “essential nutrition actions” articulated by the World Health Organization and identified as particularly effective in fighting malnutrition in the research published in the Lancet Maternal and Child Nutrition series. Indirect nutrition actions are nutrition-sensitive activities that target the underlying causes of undernutrition, and direct interventions can be complemented by indirect nutrition actions for maximum impact. In fact, combining direct and indirect actions by “bundling” projects that include both has been found to be the most effective development investment a country can make.

USAID is committed to the World Health Assembly 2025 Nutrition Targets and is developing additional nutrition targets it will use to track and evaluate its development assistance. Included in these is a target in Feed the Future of reducing stunting  by 20 percent in five years in regions where this initiative has programs.

Companion legislative bills have been introduced in the Senate and the House that would authorize Feed the Future as the government’s primary program for global food and nutrition security. Despite recent improvements reported by FAO, there are still 805 million chronically undernourished people in the world. With legislation, we can solidify U.S. leadership in fighting hunger and malnutrition, build and improve upon vital work that has been done, and leverage a government approach across all sectors and programs to meet specific goals for progress against global hunger and malnutrition.

Scott Bleggi

On the Way: The 2015 Hunger Report

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On November 24, which is the Monday of Thanksgiving week, Bread for the World Institute will launch our 2015 Hunger Report: When Women Flourish … We Will End Hunger. Just before Thanksgiving is when we launch each new edition of the report. What better time of the year in the United States to draw attention to hunger?

In the coming weeks, as the launch approaches, I plan to preview the report on this blog. I’ll share a little of what’s in the report and offer some personal reflections. I write most of the report, but I don’t get the opportunity within it to discuss how writing it has affected me.

When Women Flourish is about women’s empowerment, and why women’s empowerment is so important to ending hunger. The last several editions of the Hunger Report also had plenty to say about women’s empowerment, but this is the first one where we’ve put the issue front and center.

Hunger persists mainly because poverty persists. To really eradicate hunger, you have to address the root causes of poverty, and discrimination is the most fundamental of all root causes. Discrimination defines who we think people are and what we believe they are worth. It determines the limited aspirations that too many parents have for their daughters. If girls are seen as an economic burden to a family, for example, it is not surprising that they die in greater numbers than boys as a result of underinvestment in their health -- including the share of food they receive.

Ending hunger ultimately depends on working with and through women: in the developing world, women work predominantly as subsistence farmers, and subsistence farming is the backbone of community food security. In addition, at the household level, women are responsible for preparing the food that nourishes children and other family members. (This holds true for the most part in rich countries, too).

Yet we did not want to instrumentalize women – seeing and talking about them only as foot soldiers in the fight against hunger. Empowerment is about much more than food production and preparation.

Similarly, discrimination is about more than just gender discrimination. Race, ethnicity, religion, caste, and other drivers of social exclusion also figure into who goes hungry and who doesn’t. We could have done a report focused on race, ethnicity, or any other layer – they all interact. But in this report, we start with gender.

The report looks at three fundamental topics: improving women’s bargaining power in the economy and in the household; reducing the burden of unpaid domestic work and sharing it more equitably between men and women and between families and government; and strengthening women’s collective voice by increasing their political representation and leadership in civil society. I’ll write more about each of these in the coming weeks. For the remainder of this blog post, I’d like to offer a personal reflection.

I learned a great deal while working on the 2015 Hunger Report, as I do on each edition, but on this report there were some real jaw droppers. Let me single out child marriage. When I learned that one out of nine girls around the world becomes a child bride – that’s 39,000 per day -- it was a moment when amazement doesn’t seem too strong a word.

Why was I so surprised? Maybe because child marriage isn’t a big issue here in the United States. I was already aware of the grotesque levels of gender-based violence, the one in three women who will experience it during their lives. Gender-based violence, on the other hand, is also common right here in the United States as elsewhere, so even though the statistics are still disturbing and I wouldn’t say I’ve become indifferent, there’s a certain degree of numbness that sets in after time.

The child marriage figure one in nine is for the whole world, so when you zero in on the countries where this is a common occurrence, you find statistics like three out of four girls in Niger, two out of three in Bangladesh, and one in two in India. Most countries where child marriage is prevalent have laws against it, but changing cultural norms is not as simple as changing laws.

Five years ago, I was in Bangladesh visiting an agricultural program and talking with beneficiaries. The program officer brought me to the farm of probably the most successful farmer in the village. She was not only an able farmer but clearly had charisma. She was probably no more than 30 at the time, and her daughter, a girl about half her age, walked with us by her mother’s side. Behind us was a much older man, over 60 at least, possibly beyond 70. He had trouble keeping up. Only when we stopped and she described what she was doing on each part of the farm did he catch up, standing quietly off to the side until we charged on ahead again. He was her husband. The word marriage doesn’t seem to fit this situation, though. Given the age of their daughter, the farmer could have become this man’s wife when she was as young as 12 or 13. Find out more about child marriage and the damage it does here. Todd Post

Children’s Mortality Cut By Half

A new report, issued by UNICEF along with other U.N. agencies and the World Bank, highlights a dramatic decrease in child mortality. Since 1990, the number of children under age 5 who die each year has been cut in half: from 12.7 million then to 6.3 million now. This is a remarkable achievement that amounts to saving 17,000 lives every day.

Looking at it another way, the rate of decline in child mortality is falling three times faster than previously projected. As a result, 100 million children are alive who would have died if the death rate had remained at 1990 levels—including 24 million newborns that would not have made it more than a few weeks.

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Girls playing in Angola, which still has the world’s highest rate of under-5 mortality. Young children there are 25 times more likely to die than those born in the United States.  © UNICEF/NYHQ2007-1773/Nesbitt

The report, Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed, says that the child deaths over the past 20 years were largely preventable. There were large geographical disparities: where a child was born made a big difference as to whether he or she survived.

Together, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia were the homes of 80 percent of those who died. In sub-Saharan Africa, one in every 11 children die before their fifth birthday. That is 15 times the death rate in high-income countries, where an average of one in 159 children don’t reach their fifth birthday.

Moving forward, the most important area in which to focus health and nutrition interventions is the first month of a child’s life, which is called the neonatal period. Two million infants die within a week of birth. Some effective and low-cost interventions for both mothers and children are available. These could make a big difference, but sometimes this needs to be communicated to pregnant women, their husbands, their families, and their communities. For example, breastfeeding within an hour of birth reduces the risk of neonatal death by 44 percent—but less than half of newborns around the world have that opportunity.

The “Promise Renewed” of the report title has two goals. The first is to keep the promises of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 — to reduce the under-5 mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015, and MDG 5 – to reduce maternal mortality by three-fourths in this time period.  The second goal is to keep moving forward, beyond 2015, until no child or mother dies from preventable causes. In 2012, nearly 180 governments pledged to scale up efforts and speed up the decline in preventable maternal, newborn, and child deaths.

The Institute has written extensively about the MDGs, most recently in a blog about another recent report, the 2014 State of Food Insecurity in the World,  whichconfirms that the goal of halving hunger that is part of MDG 1 is within reach. What’s clear in both reports is that despite recent successes, a concerted effort focused on MDG goals and targets must be sustained. Further country-led development efforts in nutrition, health, and agriculture are key to achieving the goals.

The U.S. contribution to the MDGs is largely made through two USAID programs, the Global Health Initiative (GHI) and Feed the Future (FtF).  Congress has enacted legislation on the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR (part of GHI), through which nutrition funding is authorized. FtF currently lacks formal authorization through legislation, but both the House of Representatives and the Senate are considering versions of the Global Food Security Act, which will make FtF part of U.S. law.

U.S. efforts in international agricultural development and nutrition largely focus on the 1,000 Days, the “window of opportunity” between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday.  Leading economists agree that development assistance investments here yield a very high rate of return. More importantly, these investments save mothers’ and children’s lives.

Scott Bleggi

 

Three Charts, Three Important Stats from New Poverty Numbers

Yesterday, the Census Bureau released its most recent data on U.S. income, poverty, and health care for 2013. The data reflected the first drop in the nation’s poverty rate since 2006, from 15 percent in 2012 to 14.5 percent in 2013. The poverty rate among children fell more significantly, from 21.8 percent to 19.9 percent—its first decline since 2000. Thanks to job market growth, 2.8 million more people had full-time, year-round employment in 2013 than in 2012, enabling them to better support their families in 2013.

Beyond the topline national poverty rates for various groups, the data can tell us a great deal more.  Here are three graphics that help explain where the limited growth from the economic recovery is focused, which groups are noticing gains, and which groups still aren’t.

1. Poverty Falls for Every Major Racial/Ethnic Group for First Time Since 2006

Poverty Rates at Recession High, 2012, and 2013 by Race and Ethnicity

2013 was the first year since 2006 that the poverty rate fell across the racial/ethnic board. While the drop was not statistically significant for all groups except Hispanics, this is important news because it signals that the gains from economic growth are finally beginning to be felt by all—a sign of a more sustainable and equitably shared recovery. It should not have taken this long for this to happen, and we can make statistically significant advances against poverty across all groups if Congress and the President make decisive investments in human capital development, job creation, and better wages.

2. Top 10 Percent Gains, Everyone Else Loses

Percent Change in Real Income, 2010-2013, by Income Percentiles

This graphic helps us appreciate even the small poverty rate decline reported for 2013, because in reality, the vast majority of the working population earned less real income that year than they did after the Great Recession. Almost all of the benefits of economic growth since the recession have been captured by those who need them least—the top 10 percent of income earners. This is part of a much greater income inequality story, in motion since the 1970s. Without a robust policy response from our leaders, we will remain on the track of prosperity for a few, not for all. 

3. The Gender Gap Continues to Slowly Narrow

Amount Earned by Women for Every Dollar Earned by Men, 1960-2013

Women’s earnings relative to men’s grew by another percentage point in 2013, advancing the long, slow march to wage equality another step. Women now earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, up from 77 cents in 2012. The gender wage gap has been closing since women started to enter the workforce at an increasing rate in the 1960s. While differences in education and training account for some of the wage gap, much more is due to gender discrimination.

Most of the numbers released yesterday showed nominal improvements for America’s working class and those facing poverty and hunger in 2013, but we should be encouraged by them. We know that with the right steps we can make dramatic progress toward not only reducing, but ending hunger and poverty in the United States by 2030. But 2013 was a dismal year for Congressional action on any of those steps. If anything, inaction through the sequester, the government shutdown and persistent austerity proposals threatened to reverse progress that year.   

If we can sustain economic growth and poverty reduction even through complete Congressional inaction, imagine where we could be if our policy makers were to get serious about ending hunger and poverty.

Read more about the steps Congress and the president must take to end hunger in the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. Derek Schwabe

Too Many SDGs?

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Vuk Jeremić, President of the sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly, opens the first session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Photo source: UN Multimedia.

Late last month, the U.N. General Assembly’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) submitted its proposal for a set of goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when their deadline, December 2015, passes.

The SDGs, to be presented for approval at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September, are an effort to accelerate and intensify the gains in human development that the MDGs began. The MDGs galvanized remarkable global political commitment from rich and poor countries alike – and this is why they inspired significant progress against poverty and hunger.

The eight MDGs are concise and easy to remember – e.g., cut the rate of extreme poverty in half, reduce maternal mortality by three-fourths. They have proven to be easy to explain to the public and to adapt to the circumstances of individual countries.  At this writing, there are 17 proposed SDGs – which run the risk of losing the simplicity that made their predecessors so popular and effective.  It may sound simplistic, but it is also accurate:  in order to spur lasting improvements, the SDGs must be marketable.

One of the most significant critiques of the MDGs has been the non-inclusive way in which they were formulated. The voices of developing country leaders, civil society, and low-income people themselves were largely absent from the MDG discussion. This is something that the UN has worked very hard to remedy this time around. A list of 17 proposed SDGs is a good sign— many more people have contributed their thoughts, making it more likely that the SDGs will avoid the blind spots of the MDGs.

Stronger global partnerships based on mutual respect are also a major theme of the Africa Leaders Summit, taking place this week in Washington, DC. The emphasis on trade in this first-ever event reflects the evolving view of U.S.-Africa relations – and U.S. relations with all developing regions – as focused on shared goals that are nonetheless country-owned. Thus, each country will pursue goals such as ending hunger by 2030 according to its own national circumstances and priorities. If well-packaged and well-presented, the SDGs will undergird this partnership model.

Keeping the list of SDGs wieldy is essential, however. Early research in the psychology of memory found that generally, human beings do not retain lists of more than seven or eight meaningful concepts at once. The results of a more recent study by psychologists at the University of Missouri, Columbia indicated an even smaller list, placing the optimal number of distinct ideas that a young adult can store in short-term “working memory” at three to five. Conventional wisdom, from speeches and sermons to advertisements, affirms this finding.  Three-point speeches are the norm, and you will never see a commercial that tries to sell you on 17 concepts at once.

Like many other stakeholders, we at Bread for the World Institute have made our case for why the issues most important to us—a goal to end hunger and a nutrition target—should be represented in the SDGs. And there are many other critically important concerns. But there are only so many seats on the plane. What’s most important in the end is that the plane is light enough to take off. If people can’t grasp the goals easily, they will have a much harder time getting behind them.

The General Assembly should explore practical ways to preserve the breadth of the proposed SDGs while making them as accessible as possible. Grouping is one possibility:  the 17 goals could be sorted into four or five descriptive categories that are easier to name and summarize.

Communicating complex ideas without oversimplifying or alienating your audience is about striking a delicate balance. The potential impact of the SDGs hangs in that balance.       Derek Schwabe

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