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102 posts categorized "U.S. Hunger"
Gender bias is a principal cause of hunger. Women produce well over half of the global food supply and are more likely to spend additional income on food. We won’t be able to end extreme poverty by 2030 without tackling gender inequality around the world. This is why women’s empowerment will be the focus of Bread for the World Institute’s (@breadinstitute) upcoming 2015 Hunger Report, currently being developed.
Join Bread for the World Institute Senior Policy Analyst Faustine Wabwire (@fwabwire) for a Twitter chat on the linkages between hunger, poverty, and women’s empowerment this Friday, March 7—the eve of International Women's Day. We want to hear your recommendations and stories to help answer the question:
What can we absolutely not leave out of the 2015 Hunger Report on women's economic empowerment to end hunger?
Be sure to include the hashtag #IWD2014 in your tweets. Here are the details:
What: Twitter Chat on Women’s Empowerment to end Hunger and Poverty
When: Friday, March 7, 2014
Time: 12 p.m. - 1 p.m. EST
Chat Hashtag: #IWD2014
Primary Twitter Accounts:
@asmalateef (Asma Lateef, director of Bread for the World Institute)
Faustine and the Institute will start the conversation with a few questions—but we hope to do a lot of listening. We look forward to hearing from you!
Posted by Bread on March 05, 2014 in Africa, Asia, Assets for the Poor, Development Assistance, Economic Development, Food Aid, Gender, Global Hunger, Hunger Report, Inequality, Latin America, Malnutrition, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Millennium Development Goals, Religion and Hunger, U.S. Hunger, Weblogs | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Nadine poses for a portrait. Click this image to view a video of Nadine's story. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)
Nadine is a registered nurse, low-vision therapist, and former school teacher in Philadelphia who lost her job as a health service administrator when a debilitating medical condition struck without warning. Left with no job, drained savings, and limited assistance, the safety net is the only thing keeping Nadine from homelessness.
Food insecurity in the United States is much more common among members of society who have faced social exclusion, either due to a vulnerability like age or disability, or to discrimination by race, gender, or some other characteristic (see the chart below). Unfortunately Nadine has endured exclusion for all of these reasons.
As an African American woman, even in her healthiest years, Nadine had to hurdle serious barriers in order to attain the educational and employment opportunities that more men, and more women of other racial groups, enjoyed—opportunities that helped provide her with a steady, well paying job. But now, as a disabled senior, her physical inability to work, has left her teatering on the edge of poverty, homelessness, and food insecuirty.
African American females are least likely to earn a high school or college degree, yet most vulnerable to fatal health conditions like hypertension and various forms of cancer. African American women also have higher rates of unemployment than white women and continue to have lower amounts of weekly usual earnings and median wealth compared to their male counterparts and white women. In 2010, African American women earned, on average, 64 cents for every one dollar earned by a white, non-Hispanic male. White women made 78.1 cents to the same dollar.
We can get close to ending hunger in America by making improvements in economic policies as regularly discussed on Institute Notes. But we cannot end hunger altogether without confronting knottier social issues that tie down people like Nadine. Ending hunger requires ending discrimination so that all people can have access to the educational and job opportunities that allow an individual to earn enough money to keep her family out of poverty. But it also requires a strong federal safety safety net--made up of programs like Social Security, SNAP (food stamps) and disability insurance--so that physical inability to work does not remain a condemnation to chronic homelessness and hunger.
This graph from the CBO’s minimum wage report shows the estimated broadly shared income gains that a $10.10 minimum wage would bring. (Congressional Budget Office)
Last week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a federal nonpartisan agency, heralded good news for America’s working poor families with the release of a report confirming the net positive economic impact of raising the federal minimum wage to the president’s proposed $10.10 per hour.
News agencies and opponents of raising the minimum wage, however, mostly ignored the good news of positive outcomes not only for working poor people, but for the vast majority of Americans. That’s why I’ve decided to recap them here:
If the minimum wage is raised to the proposed $10.10 an hour by 2016, the CBO estimates that…
- 16.5 million low-wage workers would earn higher wages.
- A net 900,000 people (i.e., factoring in potential job losses) would no longer be working full-time yet living in poverty.
- The American workforce would see a $31 billion increase in income — the majority of it going to families earning at or below twice the poverty threshold.
- Families with earnings below the poverty threshold would have an average 3 percent increase in income.
- Only America’s top earners (with incomes six or more times the poverty threshold) would see a decrease in their income, and this decrease would be small.
Opponents of a higher minimum wage trumpeted the only statistic in the entire report that suggested a potentially harmful effect on low-wage earners – an estimate that there is a two-thirds chance that raising the minimum wage would lead to a loss of about 500,000 jobs (0.3 percent of total U.S. employment).
But the benefits I’ve just listed, for millions of low-wage workers and for the entire economy, overwhelmingly outweigh the possible loss of 500,000 jobs that pay poverty-level wages.
The idea that higher wages necessarily result in fewer jobs is simplistic and short-sighted. Higher wages do not operate in a vacuum. Raising the minimum wage produces many other positive results — most obviously, a rise in people’s earnings. And as people make more money, they spend more, they pay more in taxes, the economy grows, and more good jobs are created.
Thanks to the Congressional Budget Office, U.S. policymakers have a small mountain of evidence that raising the federal minimum wage is the right course of action — for the nation's economy, and especially for its most vulnerable families.
The 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, recommends a $12 minimum wage — what it takes for a single breadwinner in a family of four, working full-time, year-round, to pull her or his family just over the federal poverty line. Read more about the rationale behind that recommendation at hungerreport.org.
Ofelio prepares Tamales in his kitchen. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)
Ofelio left his home in rural Mexico almost 30 years ago with no family in the United States, no knowledge of English, but a strong work ethic and determination to find a better life. He hasn't been able to return to Mexico for more than 20 years, even though his parents, both in their 80s, would like to see him for what would likely be the last time. He still wonders if it was a mistake to come to the United States. Like most immigrants, he wanted the things for his children that are harder to come by in much of Latin America: a secure home, plentiful food, and an education to prepare them for success. He did find some of these things in the United States, but it cost him dearly in health and well-being.
Ofelio’s first job in the United States was washing dishes in a New York City restaurant at a sub-minimum wage. To keep his job he was expected to work seven days a week, 12 hours a day with no sick days, vacation time, or promise of job security. His employers often asked him to work extra hours without pay. He knew that if he objected they wouldn’t think twice about replacing him. Ten years of life on poverty level wages drove Ofelio into a state of deep depression that he says almost killed him.
Ofelio started making tamales out of his home nine years ago for people at his largely Latino church. After a few months, he was getting orders on a regular basis, and the prospect of making a living from tamales grew as he built up a client base in the city’s Latino community. With a lot of hard work and the help of a local nonprofit, Ofelio was able to obtain all of the necessary permits and certifications to legitimize his catering business. He now has insurance, a bank account, and even a website and business cards. As a single father of three, Ofelio knows that the business is his family’s lifeline, and his income still provides little more than essential needs. He combines tamale order drop-offs with school pick-ups and prepares tamales and family meals in the same kitchen.
If you ask Ofelio about his ideas for the future of his business, his eyes light up. He has many, like renting a commercial kitchen to increase production, purchasing a delivery vehicle, and hiring full-time help. Beyond the business, he’d love to take classes to improve his English and be able to provide quality childcare for his two youngest daughters. These kinds of investments are only possible with the help of a business loan. But Ofelio has been denied that help from banks, which deem his business too small and too much of a risk. Without access to capital, Ofelio has no means of moving his business—and his family—beyond just barely making it.
A federal bond program established under the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 authorized the issuance of long-term bonds at low-interest rates to fund community development finance institutions (CDFIs), which in turn provide small loans to businesses like Ofelio’s. The program was supposed to operate from 2011 to 2014, but was held up in Congress for more than two years pending approval on how it should be run. The delay resulted in $2 billion less in loans to support entrepreneurs like Ofelio. Congress should have moved more quickly and the administration should have been a stronger advocate for the program to overcome the delays. Entrepreneurs in low-income communities are the bedrock of the workforce. Investing in them grows opportunity for all of us and enables more people to work their own way out of poverty and hunger.
Fostering micro-entrepreneurship is one critical piece of the 2014 Hunger Report’s jobs agenda—the first pivotal step toward reversing record hunger rates in America.
Meet Nate: a young dad striving to provide for his family after serving a prison sentence for passing bad checks. He looked high and low for a job for three years but even temp agencies wouldn’t accept him. As far as employers were concerned, he was defined by his response to one question: “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”
SNAP (food stamps) helped Nate keep food on the table when the promise of steady work failed him. With the support of those at the HELP program, Nate was finally able to overcome the employment barrier, and now works to feed his family.
After paying their debt to society, many like Nate face tremendous barriers to putting their lives back together upon returning to their communities. Poor people of color, particularly men, are victims of a discriminatory criminal justice system that seems intent on keeping them in poverty. The stigma of having a criminal record means that ex-offenders—returning citizens is the term preferred by advocacy groups—are already one of the groups most vulnerable to hunger.
In most states, policies that make millions of returning citizens ineligible for nutrition assistance programs like SNAP only exacerbate the problem—while studies show that access to public services that improve economic security, especially soon after people are released, reduces recidivism rates. The policies are counterproductive, go on punishing people long after they’ve completed their sentences, and turn their children, other family members, and communities into collateral damage.
Italicized text is excerpted from the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. You can read more about social exclusion and hunger in chapter three, and explore the data related to Nate's story and others' with our interactive tool, Stories in the Steps.
There may not be a lot left to say about the $8.6 billion in cuts to SNAP in the farm bill—but I’ll try to make one salient point.
The Congressional Budget Office projects that SNAP spending over the next decade will be $764 billion. (This number has to be taken with a lump salt, as nobody knows for sure what the economic conditions in the country will be a decade from now.) If we assume this number is accurate, then reducing the cost of the program by $8.6 billion is not going to take a significant bite out of it. Meanwhile, approximately 850,000 households will see their benefits cut by an average of $90 per month.
In terms of the fiscal impact, what is the effect of cutting $8.6 billion out of a $764 billion program? To be blunt, it will amount to little more than nothing. The federal budget is considerably larger than the SNAP program, which accounts for only 2 percent of federal spending. Altogether, the SNAP cuts will shave about 0.04 percent off the federal budget deficit. That scarcely qualifies as a rounding error.
Both the Senate and the House are trumpeting the farm bill for its contribution to cutting the federal deficit. This is just silly and a diversion from the much bigger problem they’ve been unwilling to address. With nearly 50 million people using SNAP, and more than four years since the end of the recession, anybody can see that something is horribly wrong with the U.S. economy.
SNAP is perhaps the best indicator we have about the state of the economy. The unemployment rate, which would seem to be a reliable indicator, is actually quite flawed because it doesn’t count the people who are so discouraged by the job market that they’ve given up looking, or all the people who are working part time involuntarily. When you include those numbers, the actual unemployment nearly doubles.
In a talk I gave to colleagues at Bread for the World recently about the 2014 Hunger Report: Ending Hunger in America, the subject of rising income inequality in the United States came up, and I was asked what has been driving it. There are many contributing factors, but it was a short talk so I needed a concise answer. I zeroed in on the decline of the labor movement in the United States.
I pulled the above graphic from a new briefing paper by Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva and Nicholas Galasso of Oxfam, Working for the Few: Political Capture and Inequality. Why are unions so important to maintaining a basic level of equality? Well, it’s all about bargaining power. When workers are organized, they have more bargaining power with their employers to negotiate fairer wages and other compensation such as flexible scheduling, maternity and paternity leave, and such. A worker by herself, especially one in a low-wage job, is expendable. If she requests better pay or benefits, her boss can tell her to take what she’s got or quit. The boss knows if the worker quits, it won’t be too much of a headache to replace her. But if the entire staff threatened to quit, that would be far more than a headache. It would be quite costly to hire many new staff quickly and make sure everyone was trained. Also, there would surely be some customers who found the firing of an entire staff a little disquieting and they might not want to do business with the company anymore.
The decline of union influence has also contributed to a rising problem known as wage theft. A 2008 survey of low-wage workers in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York—the three largest U.S. cities, with a combined labor force of more than 11 million workers—found that 26 percent were paid less than the minimum wage, 76 percent had been underpaid or not paid at all for overtime hours, and 70 percent had worked off the clock before or after their paid shift. On average, the 4,387 workers in the survey were not paid for 15 percent of their time; an average of $2,634 was stolen from their annual earnings. The vast majority of these workers were supporting at least one child. The wage theft meant that every month, families had $219.50 less to buy food and meet other expenses.
In an interview I did with Kim Bobo, executive director of the Interfaith Worker Justice Network and author of Wage Theft in America, she said there is no comprehensive study of wage theft across all 50 states, but that based on regional or city studies such as the one in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, she estimates that the total value of wages stolen from workers could easily reach $100 billion a year. Imagine how much nutritious food and safe housing $100 billion would buy for families living in poverty in this country.
The bottom line is that unions serve as watchdogs, ensuring that employers comply with workplace regulations. As union membership has fallen, workers find themselves more dependent on government inspectors to enforce the requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act. However, business interests are quite hostile to government regulation, and this hostility has visible effects. Between 1980 and 2007, for example, the number of inspectors enforcing federal minimum wage and overtime laws declined by a third—while the labor force grew by half.
I tend to believe that “everything that goes around comes around.” Between 1933 and 1954, union density in the U.S. labor force rose from 7 percent to 28 percent, and there is little reason to believe that unions could not rise again. After all, $100 billion is an amount worth trying to recapture.
In his State of the Union address the other night, President Obama touched on a number of subjects covered in the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. Among these were raising the minimum wage; extending the Earned Income Tax Credit to childless workers; strengthening access to high-quality early education, secondary education, and postsecondary education and training; closing loopholes that benefit companies who ship jobs overseas, investing in renewables and building manufacturing capacity.
However, he didn’t say a word about setting a goal to end hunger in the United States by 2030, the main recommendation in the 2014 Hunger Report—but what the president did say the country should do can move the United States closer to ending hunger.
Naturally we in Bread for the World Institute are delighted that the president gave attention to topics identified as priorities in the Hunger Report. He didn’t mention the report by name, so we can’t actually take credit for these comments, but we still want to highlight the recommendations of Ending Hunger in America that are related to President Obama’s speech.
Probably the most substantive reform to reduce income inequality was the president’s pledge to sign an executive order mandating that all federal contractors pay a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour. The government has a limited ability to influence the behavior of private sector companies, but the government—or, more accurately, the taxpayer—is the customer in the public sector. Polls consistently show that the U.S. public wants the government to do more to help ensure that working families have a decent standard of living. Most Americans would agree that the federal government should be doing business with high-road companies that pay their workers a living wage, not with companies that pay poverty-level wages.
Amy Traub, co-author of the Demos report “Underwriting Bad Jobs: How Our Tax Dollars Are Funding Low-Wage Work and Fueling Inequality,” testified before Congress on this issue in May 2013. She explained the burden on taxpayers in plain language: “When federally funded workers are paid low wages, taxpayers are, in effect, subsidizing their jobs twice. First we pay for the work itself. But we pay again when workers earn so little that they require public benefits, such as Medicaid, food stamps, and housing assistance, to support their families.”
A second new idea in the State of the Union speech is the new MyRA saving account to help Americans save for retirement. The president said little about how the account would operate, and the White House hasn’t released many details yet. Bread for the World Institute has championed asset building in many of our annual Hunger Reports, so we look forward to learning more about how the MyRA program could help low-wage workers save money.
The strongest section of the U.S. safety net is targeted to seniors. Social Security (along with Medicare) prevents the majority of seniors from spiraling into hunger and poverty. In 2011, Social Security lifted nearly 15 million seniors out of poverty, the majority women. Without Social Security, 43.6 percent of all seniors would have been in poverty. With Social Security, however, only 8.7 percent fell below the poverty line in 2011.
But the senior safety net is fraying. In the Hunger Report, we focus on strengthening Social Security, a much simpler solution to the problem of inadequate savings in retirement. Social Security is still a contentious issue in Washington. Some members of Congress (and the president on occasion) appear more willing to talk about cuts to Social Security than about raising benefits. The little we know about MyRAs from the White House website suggests that they will be similar to conventional IRAs – which, of course, incur management fees and other expenses that take away from the amount saved.
Of all the subjects the president raised in the SOTU, I think what I enjoyed hearing most was when he pointed out that women earn only 77 cents of every dollar that men earn—and named some of the outdated policies that increase rather than reduce such inequality:
“A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode.”
The president said little about what he would do to improve these policies. Raising them, I guess, is better than ignoring them. When the U.S. president talks about income inequality, it doesn’t feel like such a leap to setting a national goal to end hunger.
Maria Shriver, the media personality and former First Lady of California, is probably better known at this point than her parents. But she honors them both in her third edition of the Shriver Report, A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, published just last week.
Maria Shiver’s father, Sargent Shriver, was President Lyndon B. Johnson’s handpicked architect for the War on Poverty. He had as much to do as Johnson himself with the creation of Head Start, the Job Corps, VISTA, Community Action Agencies, and several other programs. Maria Shriver’s mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics.
The Shriver Report, coming out as 2014 gets under way and the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, makes a critical point about income inequality. That point is that income inequality is an extension – an inseparable companion – of gender inequality.
Political leaders don’t talk a lot about poverty – and they talk even less about practical ways of reducing it. But income inequality has suddenly made an appearance in the debate over how to get the economy moving again after the Great Recession. This is an important step forward, because the persistence of poverty is inseparable from the persistence of income inequality.
President Obama is likely to make income inequality a key part of his State of the Union address on January 28. I don’t know if the president will reference the Shriver Report, but I hope he does; this report is especially worth highlighting because it makes the connections between income inequality and gender inequality.
It obviously fuels income inequality when half of the work force is paid on average 77 cents for every dollar the other half is paid. Women are fully half of the work force, but they still earn less than men regardless of their level of experience, educational achievement, or ability to do a job as well as men.The gap is even wider when you factor in race and ethnicity.
At the start of the War on Poverty, women were earning less than 77 percent of what men were paid for the same work. There has definitely been progress. But the slow gains made between 1970 and 2000 have stalled since the turn of the century. Moreover, the relative gains had a lot to do with lower wages for men rather than higher wages for women.
The current national debate on income inequality focuses largely on the concentration of wealth among the top 1 percent. What the Shriver Report does so well is to place the changes in the economy within the context of more gender-specific social changes over the last 50 years. Two of the biggest changes have been (1) the increasing share of women in the workforce and (2) the rise in the share of single-parent families, which are overwhelmingly headed by mothers.
It is refreshing to see how the Shriver Report treats the latter. The typical response to the fact that single parenting is so common now is to mourn the decline of two-parent families and fret about what can be done to keep the fathers and mothers of children together. The Shriver Report takes what I believe is a more realistic view, arguing that enabling single-parent families to be successful can be done most effectively by improving policies that allow them (and all families) to better balance the responsibilities of work and caregiving.
The saddest results have come from how slowly our policymakers have been moving to adapt to the change. The United States has one of the highest child poverty rates in the developed world, but it’s not among the developed countries with the highest shares of births out of wedlock. See images below. Family friendly policies make the difference. As my colleague Derek Schwabe discussed in a recent blog post, the United States is the only developed country without a policy of paid maternity leave.
An unsettling rise in the share of single parent families occurred in the 1970s and 1980s for a variety of reasons. The share of families led by a single parent has been mostly stable since then as you can see below. I sometimes wonder whether the U.S. government’s lack of support for family-friendly policies on child care, maternity leave, and paid family leave and sick leave is motivated at least partly by hostility to single parenting. Unfortunately, denying single parents help in these areas holds all women back.
Caregiving responsibilities in families still fall disproportionately on women. Among countries with the most developed economies, U.S. women used to have the 6th highest workforce participation rate. Today, the United States ranks 17th. Other developed countries surged ahead because they adopted policies that were more family friendly.
To reduce income inequality, we will ultimately have to enable families to combine work and parenting in better ways. It’s not as though women will be returning to work as full-time unpaid caregivers. One income can no longer keep a family securely in the middle class. Moreover, U.S. women are now finishing high school and college at higher rates than their male peers, and they want to use their education and training. Women’s work is vital to the country’s economic recovery, so policymakers have every reason to adopt family friendly policies that will enable women to contribute to their full potential.
We can get very close to ending hunger in America by pursuing full employment and a fair deal for workers. But we cannot end hunger altogether without confronting knottier social issues. Hunger is often a by-product of social exclusion, which can appear in many forms of discrimination.
Ending hunger means ending discrimination and having a safety net wide enough to protect those who are prevented from working, and their families. That means fortifying front-line nutrition programs like SNAP (food stamps) that help people get back on their feet sooner when they can’t find work, and supplement basic needs for people like the elderly and disabled who simply can’t work.
SNAP is the most effective policy tool at our disposal capable of ensuring that the most vulnerable members of our society can still eat. As the infographic below shows, SNAP is neither designed nor implemented for permanent use--the average new SNAP participant stays on the program for 10 months.
Congress could pass a renewed farm bill as early as next week. But the pending compromise is expected to cut at least $8 billion from the SNAP program at a time when record numbers of Americans are out of work. This cut will deal a second weakening blow to the nation’s already beleaguered safety net, following an estimated $5 billion cut two months ago that sapped 16 meals from the monthly food budgets of participating three person families.
The safety net exists to help the unemployed get back to work sooner following an economic downturn. Is this really the right time for Congress to be pulling it out from under them?
Read more about the role of federal safety net programs like SNAP in ending hunger in chapter three of the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America.
Get updates on issues and actions to take on behalf of hungry people.