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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
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
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
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.
Today the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released the 2014 edition of The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI). The report, Strengthening the Enabling Environment for Food Security and Nutrition, confirmsthat the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of cutting the rate of hunger in half is indeed within reach. But the MDGs expire at the end of December 2015, so time is growing short.
According to the report, the global number of hungry people fell more than 100 million over the past decade, and by more than 200 million since 1990-92.
Despite all the progress, several regions and sub-regions still lag behind. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than one in four people are chronically undernourished, while Asia, as the world's most populous region, is home to the majority of hungry people - 526 million.
The absolute number of hungry people—which takes into account both progress against hunger and population growth—fell in most regions. The exceptions were Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and West Asia.
According to a statement by the heads of the three U.N. agencies (FAO, IFAD, and WFP) that jointly publish the annual SOFI report, "This is proof that we can win the war against hunger and should inspire countries to move forward, with the assistance of the international community as needed.”
Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, FAO Assistant Director-General provides an overview of the SOFI key findings
Additional information on global hunger:
2014 State of Food Insecurity in the World (Executive Summary)
Quick Facts on Hunger
1. Some 805 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That's about one in nine people on earth.
2. The vast majority of the world's hungry people live in developing countries, where 13.5 percent of the population is undernourished.
3. Asia is the continent with the greatest number of hungry people – two-thirds of the total. The percentage in South Asia has fallen in recent years, but West Asia’s rate has increased slightly.
4. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest percentage of hungry people: one in four people.
5. Malnutrition causes nearly half (45 percent) of all deaths in children under 5 – that’s 3.1 million child deaths each year.
6. One in six children in developing countries -- roughly 100 million -- is underweight.
7. One in four of the world's children are stunted. In some countries and in the poorer regions of others, the proportion rises to one in three or even higher. Stunted children do not reach their full physical or intellectual potential.
8. Studies estimate that if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry people in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.
9. Across the developing world, 66 million primary school children attend classes hungry.
10. The WFP calculates that $3.2 billion is needed each year to reach all 66 million.
Last month, two U.S. citizens who contracted Ebola in Liberia were flown home for treatment. Their amazing recovery within just a couple of weeks must seem like a fantasy to desperate communities in the outbreak-stricken countries of West Africa.
Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone are the hardest-hit by the Ebola crisis, which has killed nearly 2,300 people so far. These three countries are also among the poorest countries in the region and are in dire need of immediate assistance. Domestic food production has declined and markets are shutting down. Economic activity has slowed causing a sharp drop in state revenues necessary to combat the outbreak.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports that economic growth is likely to decline from 11.3 percent to 8 percent in Sierra Leona; from 6 percent to 2.5 percent in Liberia; and from 3.5 percent to 2.4 percent in Guinea. In the same report, Liberia's Finance Minister Amara Konneh stated that the outbreak was threatening the country's post-civil war recovery.
If the Ebola crisis was occurring in the United States, it most certainly would not look anything like what it does in West Africa. The U.S. health care system has the capacity to minimize the effects of the outbreak. There would be no shortage of beds, medical personnel, and supplies as we’ve seen in the West African countries.
Bread for the World has always maintained that it’s cheaper to prevent a crisis than to respond after it has occurred. The Ebola epidemic is just one illustration of this principle. The United Nations has stated that controlling the epidemic will cost at least $600 million and will require three or four times the current number of healthcare workers. The funding for preparedness and contingency planning always seems to be in short supply.
In a statement last week, USAID Administrator Raj Shah stated, "The U.S. is committed to supporting the African Union's response to the urgent needs across West Africa as a result of this vicious disease." To date, the U.S. government response is as follows:
- The United States will spend an additional $10 million to fight Ebola in West Africa, bringing its total investment against the epidemic to more than $100 million.
- The new funds, announced Tuesday by USAID will support the African Union's deployment of roughly 100 health workers to support exhausted medical personnel.
- The Pentagon announced Monday that it would send a 25-bed portable hospital to Liberia to care for sickened healthcare workers.
Resilience is a popular word these days for people who work on international development. We use it mostly to talk about the capacity to bounce back after a crisis. But we have also began to understand that resilience means the capacity to adapt as necessary to prevent shocks such as Ebola.
The U.S. government must continue to adapt its own approach to development assistance through investments in early warning, closer coordination with development partners including partner countries, the private sector and civil society. Over the last decade the U.S. government and its development partners have made some great progress improving how they provide development assistance. But shocks such as Ebola remind us how fleeting progress can be if it doesn’t include investments in institutions and systems, such as health care. This is why resilience must be prioritized on the global development agenda.
“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
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.
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.
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