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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?
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.
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.
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.
Posted by Faustine Wabwire on August 12, 2014 in A Climate to End Hunger, Africa, Agriculture, Assets for the Poor, Data to End Hunger, Development Assistance, Economic Development, Good Governance, Inequality, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Millennium Challenge Account, Millennium Development Goals, Trade | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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.
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.
"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.
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.
Block grants are big news these days, since they form the centerpiece of Rep. Paul Ryan’s anti-poverty proposal. The plan suggests taking all the money the federal government currently spends on 11 different programs for low-income people (including SNAP, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and several housing programs) and giving it directly to the states in the form of “Opportunity Grants.”
That’s all a block grant is: money given straight from the federal government to the states with a fair amount of leeway to use as they see fit. In the Ryan plan, states would have to demonstrate that they actually used the money to help poor people, and they would have to follow several other guidelines, but they could each create their own anti-poverty programs.
Block grants have pros and cons. Some of the disadvantages cannot be avoided, while others can be mitigated by careful design and implementation of the grants. Here are three broad ideas about block grants in general and the proposed Opportunity Grants in particular:
They need enough funding. Imagine that you’ve been offered a job getting all the kids in your neighborhood to school. Your new boss says, “You get a choice in how you’re paid. Would you like $1,000 a month, or the cost of a bus pass for each kid?” Those are, respectively, a block grant and an entitlement program. You can see that in some situations, the flat amount might be great -- if transportation is cheap and there are only a few kids in the neighborhood, for example. But what if the bus company raises fares or dozens of new kids move into town?
The same situations can arise with block grants for anti-poverty programs. When there’s a natural disaster, a recession, or inflation, there’s no additional money to respond. In policy terms, that means that block grants are not “countercyclical”: they don’t work to counter changes in economic cycles. Making block grants more responsive to dire circumstances and emergencies requires setting money aside in a contingency fund—and, of course, that money needs to come from somewhere.
Also, let’s say you choose the flat rate, and you don’t get a raise for a decade or two. Worse yet, your boss shows up and says, “Next year, we’ve budgeted $850 a month instead of $1,000.” That’s what has happened to many federal block grant programs — their budgets are cut and/or they fail to keep up with inflation.
What if $1,000 didn’t meet the costs of getting all the kids to school in the first place? This is the situation for some of the federal programs that would be folded into an Opportunity Grant: they are already insufficient to meet current needs. SNAP doesn’t last the whole month, TANF only serves a fraction of poor families, and there are long waitlists for other types of assistance (New York City alone has nearly a quarter-million residents on the waitlist for public housing). Keeping the same level of funding is better than making cuts, but it does not solve problems that are there at the outset.
States are not magicians. Giving states money and hoping they have better ideas than the federal government about how to use it may or may not be a good idea, depending on the state and the situation. But it is certain that block grants aren’t a panacea for poverty. They don’t do anything specific to get community groups more involved. Paul Ryan’s plan refers to the wonderful work of Catholic Charities and other groups, but the reality is that such organizations are already receiving a significant amount of federal funding. States will need oversight to make sure they use their money well. And what happens when a state chooses to focus assistance on people it deems “deserving,” leaving others hungry and destitute?
As our recent experience with Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act shows, allowing states to set up their own systems can create a confusing patchwork of programs, and some states might even choose to reject the money altogether. States already get a fair amount of leeway in how they administer programs; here, for example, are the state options for SNAP. By creating a menu of possibilities for states to choose from, the federal government is able to evaluate what works—and to expand the best practices nationwide.
One of these things is not like the other. Some of the programs that Paul Ryan wants to fold into the Opportunity Grant are already block grants – for example, the Community Development Block Grant. Other programs focus on particular groups of people or provide very specific forms of assistance. Rep. Ryan says his goal is to allow states maximum flexibility, so that families who need child care but not rental assistance—or vice versa—can be better served. But one thing absolutely everyone, rich or poor, needs to do is eat. As Bread for the World has pointed out, block-granting SNAP would make it harder for the program to handle spikes in need. And people can wait longer for almost anything else than for food.
Another reason that including SNAP in an Opportunity Grant is a bad idea: it would enable states to cut off people’s nutrition assistance more easily. This includes children, who are 44.5% of all SNAP participants but have no role in setting or meeting their families’ goals. States would also be allowed to use block- grant funds for things other than nutrition assistance. While transportation passes and job training are wonderful, they can’t replace food.
Bread for the World has welcomed Paul Ryan’s proposal, calling it “an important contribution to a serious bipartisan dialogue about ending hunger and poverty.” But it’s far from perfect, especially in its Opportunity Grants provisions. Block grants aren’t a new idea, and they aren’t an inherently good or bad idea. Whether they are effective in reducing poverty depends on how they are funded and structured, on how states use them, and on whether they are accompanied by policies that create more jobs and ensure that those jobs pay a decent wage. Any legislation that comes from Rep. Ryan’s plan would need to be carefully crafted to take advantage of the benefits of block grants while avoiding their many problems.
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.
Posted by Bread on August 06, 2014 in A Climate to End Hunger, Africa, Asia, Climate Change, Development Assistance, Economic Development, Foreign Aid Reform, Global Hunger, Good Governance, Hunger Report, Latin America, Malnutrition, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Millennium Development Goals, Success in Fighting Hunger, Trade, Weblogs | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
Heads of state and government have converged on Washington, DC, for President Obama's historic summit with African leaders, taking place today, August 4, through Wednesday, August 6.
In addition to its focus on advancing trade and investment in Africa, the summit will "[highlight] the depth and breadth of the United States’ commitment to the African continent and... enable discussion of concrete ideas to deepen the partnership," according to the White House.
One sign that this deeper partnership is becoming a reality is the U.S. government's four-year-old global food security initiative, Feed the Future. As we've discussed frequently on Institute Notes, Feed the Future focuses on smallholder farmers as the key to the agriculture-led growth necessary to significantly reduce hunger and poverty. In just the past year, Feed the Future has reached nearly 7 million smallholder farmers, and Bread for the World Institute President David Beckmann calls the initiative "a down payment on global food and nutrition security." For more on the future of Feed the Future, listen to a Voice of America interview with Institute senior foreign assistance policy analyst Faustine Wabwire.
The African Union, for its part, committed to ending hunger by 2025 at its 2014 summit, held in late June in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. This year also marks 10 years since the adoption of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), where governments committed to making agriculture a higher priority. As discussed in the Institute's short paper, The Push-Up Decade: CAADP at 10,10 of the 54 African Union member states have reached the target set at the outset of allocating 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture.
Equipping Africa's next generation with the tools needed to build a more peaceful and prosperous future is a top priority for both African countries and the U.S. government. The African Leaders Summit is paired with another first-of-its-kind effort, a U.S.-based training program and White House summit for 500 African leaders ages 25 to 35, part of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) launched by the administration in 2010.
Simple numbers tell us why the focus must be on the next generation: as of 2012, the median age in sub-Saharan countries was 19.7 (by comparison, the U.S. median age is about 37). A startling 85 percent of all the people in sub-Saharan Africa are younger than 45.
The potential of such a young continent is enormous. But the data also point to an immense barrier to realizing that potential: hunger and malnutrition. In some countries, stunting -- an indication of chronic malnutrition early in life that affects a person's health and intellectual development for a lifetime -- affects more than 40 percent of all children.
Of the current 53 member countries of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, 34 are sub-Saharan African nations. SUN member countries have identified malnutrition, particularly during the 1,000 Days between a woman's pregnancy and her child's second birthday, as a critical problem in their societies. They are working together to bring proven nutrition interventions -- many of them straightforward and inexpensive actions such as providing iron supplements to pregnant women -- to many more women, infants, and toddlers at risk.
The African Leaders Summit, particularly today's discussion of "Resilience and Food Security in a Changing Climate," is a rare chance for leaders to use the growing partnership links between the United States and African countries to solidify global goals and concrete actions on hunger and nutrition.
Posted by Bread on August 04, 2014 in A Climate to End Hunger, Africa, Agriculture, Climate Change, Development Assistance, Economic Development, Foreign Aid Reform, Gender, Global Hunger, Good Governance, Malnutrition, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Millennium Development Goals | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP (known as food stamps until 2008), is the country’s first line of defense against hunger. Anyone who meets the eligibility requirements is able to participate. This legal “entitlement” – meaning that the program expands to serve all those eligible – explains why, when unemployment and poverty rates soared during the Great Recession, hunger rates did not rise dramatically.
So there’s no doubt that SNAP helps tens of millions of Americans afford groceries in tough economic times. Poverty does not automatically mean hunger in our country, because SNAP is a reliable safety net. In recent years, Bread for the World members have been spending significant time and energy defending SNAP from policy changes that increase hunger – largely successfully. Recently on Institute Notes, we explained how states can grow their economies by using a SNAP policy option called Heat and Eat, even as the 2014 farm bill made it more expensive for them to do so.
But in the midst of our focus on playing defense, it is important to remember that improvements in SNAP would serve its participants better. The fact is, even the max imum monthly SNAP benefit is often not enough for a family to afford sufficient amounts of healthy food.
Here are two ways to help ensure that all SNAP participants can afford a healthy diet.
First, USDA could more accurately consider the burden of the high housing costs borne by many low-income people. The USDA formula allows households that would otherwise get less than the maximum benefit to get more SNAP benefits when they have “excess” housing and utility expenses. But these expenses are only considered “excess” when they are greater than 50 percent of a household’s net income, even though the federal government has long recognized that housing is only affordable when it costs less than 30 percent of income. It would be better to start SNAP’s excess shelter cost deduction when a household is paying more than 30 percent of its net income for housing, instead of the current 50 percent. In addition, all households could be allowed to deduct their full utility and excess housing expenses; there is currently a cap that applies to households without elderly or disabled members.
For example, let’s consider a parent and child living in Washington, DC. This family is lucky: DC’s minimum wage just went up to $9.50 an hour, so a full-time minimum-wage job would pay about $1,634 a month. Let’s say they’re luckier still— they have no child care expenses and no disabilities, and they are able to find an apartment for $735 a month (that’s 45 percent of their gross income, but still far less than the Fair Market Rent for a one-bedroom apartment in DC). Such a family would qualify for $138 a month in SNAP benefits, well under the two-person maximum of $347 a month. But if SNAP rules changed to consider the full impact of the family’s high housing costs, this parent and child would receive more than $50 in additional SNAP benefits every month.
A second idea: SNAP benefit levels could be based on the USDA Low-Cost Food Plan, instead of the more restrictive Thrifty Food Plan. The Thrifty Food Plan was designed for short-term emergency use, as the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) notes, and SNAP is generally the only place where the government uses it as a basis for people’s longer-term diets. Basing benefits on the Low-Cost Food Plan would give households more money, enabling SNAP benefits to be stretched to cover the full month and enabling people to purchase healthier foods, which are often more expensive.
SNAP’s Heat and Eat provision is an important part of the nation’s nutrition safety net, but there is more that states and the federal government can do to make SNAP as effective as possible in allowing everyone to afford a healthy diet. Making these two policy changes would be a good start.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) recently issued a report that projects the food security of 76 low- and middle-income countries for the years 2014-2024. The assessment was based on two main factors: capacity to produce food, and capacity to import.
The report is a follow-up to ERS’ first report that made 10-year food security projections, which covered 2013-2023 and was based on the same factors.
The ability to produce food domestically is, of course, especially important in the parts of Asia and Africa that rely most heavily on local agriculture. The ability to pay for food imports is a much more significant factor in Latin America, the Caribbean, and North Africa, where countries import a large proportion of the food they need. ERS weighed both factors in order to project the number of people in each country or region who will be food-insecure.
Over the short term, ERS believes that the overall situation in the 76 countries will improve. The share of the population that is food-insecure fell 1.6 percent during the year 2013 to 2014. This is expected to translate into a 9 percent drop in the overall numbers of hungry people, from 539 million in 2013 to 490 million in 2014 (for the 76 countries in the report).
However, over the decade 2014-2024, ERS projects that the number of people who are food-insecure will increase. This is because the share of the population that is food-insecure is expected to grow from 13.9 percent now to 14.6 percent in 2024. As might be expected, the main reason that ERS identified is that the food supply – what can be produced domestically plus what a country can afford to import – is expected to grow slowly, while demand for food is already strong and will grow more quickly.
What does the report mean for global hunger? The ERS says that short-term improvements in improving food security in these countries, while positive, will not be sustained in the long-term due to population growth, weak country infrastructure and other factors. Improving production capacities of small-holder farmers, most often women, is essential. Giving women farmers improved access to land, seed, fertilizer and markets in these countries is an important key to this, and will help build the foundation to a future where food insecurity and hunger are a thing of the past.
Posted by Scott Bleggi on July 23, 2014 in A Climate to End Hunger, Africa, Asia, Assets for the Poor, Climate Change, Data to End Hunger, Development Assistance, Economic Development, Food Aid, Foreign Aid Reform, Gender, Global Hunger, Hunger Hotspots, Hunger Report, Inequality, Latin America, Malnutrition, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Success in Fighting Hunger, Weblogs | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
This Thursday is the five-year anniversary of the last time Congress raised the federal minimum wage. Despite growing worker productivity and ever-rising living costs, the minimum wage has been immobile at $7.25 an hour since July 2009. If the minimum wage had kept up with U.S. productivity growth since 1950, it would be $18.67 today.
Minimum wage workers and their families know that $7.25 an hour means life is little more than a daily struggle just to survive. A full-time, year-round minimum wage worker earns only $15,080 annually. This is well below the poverty line for a family of four ($23,850 in 2014), and only a fraction of what an American family of four actually needs to support even a modest standard of living (see the graphic above).
It’s simply not possible for one or even two adults working full-time for minimum wage to provide for their families’ basic needs. The graphic to the right provides a breakdown of what the Economic Policy Institute has calculated a worker living in a part of the country with average living costs (Topeka, Kansas in this example) needs to sustain a secure living for a family of four.
In 2012, 10 million full-time workers in our country were paid poverty-level wages -- 28 percent of all full-time workers. Low-wage workers and their families are, by and large, the face of American poverty. If these 10 million workers had earned enough to put them over the poverty line – that is, the $23,850 figure, not the $63,364 to meet basic needs – there would have been 58 percent fewer families living in poverty.
Every American who works 40 hours each week should earn enough to keep her or his family out of poverty. There have been times in U.S. history when that principle was upheld. This week’s anniversary is nothing to celebrate. Instead, it reminds us once again that the time to resume honoring our country’s values of fairness and the work ethic is long ov
Some Americans are raising awareness for the five-year anniversary by taking the Live the Wage Challenge--attempting to live on a minimum wage income for just one week. After housing costs and taxes, that's just $77 per week. You can read stories and find instructions for how to take the challenge at livethewage.com.
In late June I traveled to Omaha, Nebraska, to do interviews and site visits for the 2015 Hunger Report. The most direct reason for choosing Omaha was so that I could attend a session of Ready to Run, a nationwide bipartisan campaign training program for women. The training was fantastic—dozens of women from various parts of the state and of different political orientations, all of whom care deeply about our government and believe in political engagement as a way of getting things done. There were state legislators, school board members, political consultants, press secretaries, and women who weren’t necessarily planning to run for office soon but were becoming more educated about the political process. They will be campaign managers, donors, voters, and recruiters of candidates—all critical members of the political process.
But Ready to Run wasn’t the only great part of the trip. I met with women—and a couple of men!—who work at the Women’s Fund of Omaha (which organizes Nebraska’s Ready to Run program), Coalition for a Strong Nebraska, Heartland Workers Center, Hunger-Free Heartland, OneWorld Community Health Centers, and RedBasket. All are amazing organizations navigating their own political engagement while encouraging others to take action in their communities. Whether I was talking to a kid enjoying lunch from a mobile summer feeding truck, a member of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature, or a doctor who treats low-income patients, they all had ideas and experiences related to hunger and poverty—and how the federal government, with the help and involvement of states and localities, nonprofit groups, and motivated individuals—can help create a world where everyone has enough good food to eat.
I’m looking forward to the 2015 Hunger Report so we can tell lots of stories like the ones I gathered in Omaha, from the United States and around the world, about women’s ideas, energy, and efforts to create change. Women are becoming more empowered in government and every other facet of life, and that makes a big difference in the struggle to end hunger and poverty.
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