Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, told radio host Tavis Smiley that he feels hopeful.
Encouraged by a recent trend with both political parties addressing poverty in public speeches and decreasing poverty rates, Beckman says a post-recession America is the perfect time to make ending hunger a top priority for lawmakers.
Poverty decreased slightly—by 0.5 percent—last year, according to data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau. It is the first time a decrease has been seen since 2006. The bureau announced that 14.5 percent of Americans lived in poverty in 2013. Additionally, child poverty declined for the first time since 2000, from 21.8 percent to 19.9 percent.
“It’s just a start, but it is a change in the right direction,” said Beckmann.
Beckmann made these remarks in an interview on Public Radio International’s “The Tavis Smiley Show” last week.
Beckmann said reduced poverty rates are a result of more Americans returning to the labor market. Food security continues to remain high in the United States – a reality Beckmann sees as unnecessary. He said there are two critical factors in reducing poverty: Economic growth and focused efforts. The United States is lacking a focused effort.
“The last president who made poverty one of his top priorities was Lyndon Johnson,” says Beckmann. The Johnson administration and Congress worked together to cut poverty nearly in half from the mid-1960s through the 1970s.
To build a sustained political commitment that will reduce poverty in the United States, Beckmann emphasizes the importance of making hunger an election issue. Voters must pressure leaders to move from speeches to passing legislation that will end hunger. The elections provide an opportunity to reach out directly to lawmakers.
“We’ve got to elect people to Congress who are going to agree to work together and focus on opportunity for everybody,” said Beckmann.
Smiley is already looking ahead to the next set of elections - the 2016 presidential elections. He said that he recently called for a debate exclusively on income inequality and poverty – something he has never seen in his lifetime.
“I second the motion,” said Beckmann. “Usually in the presidential debates they never ask a question about the bottom 40-50 percent of the country.”
Listen to Beckmann’s interview on the “The Tavis Smiley Show” podcast here.
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media at Bread for the World and a senior regional organizer.
A regular, non-comprehensive roundup of current news links on hunger and poverty issues from around the Web.
“Living On The Line: The Benefits Cliff,” by Amanda Peacher, Oregon Public Broadcasting. “This is the third in a series of stories about Oregon’s “working poor,” people who are employed but still struggling to pay the bills. In this installment, we look at people living in poverty who find jobs and begin to earn a wage, but then face another challenge: the benefits cliff.”
“World Making Progress Against Hunger, Report Finds, but Large Pockets of Undernourished Persist,” by Daniel Stone, National Geographic. “Global access to food is improving overall, according to a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization released Tuesday, yet challenges in the developing world—from poor infrastructure and political instability to erratic weather and long-term changes in climate—are keeping 805 million people from having enough to eat.”
“Combating climate change can be economically beneficial,” by Bob Ward, The Hill. “A major international report published last week could be a game changer in the fierce political debate about climate change in the United States.”
“Despite Declines, Child Mortality and Hunger Persist in Developing Nations, U.N. Reports,” by Rick Gladstone and Somini Sengupta, The New York Times. “The United Nations on Tuesday reported significant declines in the rates of child mortality and hunger, but said those two scourges of the developing world stubbornly persist in parts of Africa and South Asia despite major health care advances and sharply higher global food production.”
“An essential guide to the midterm elections,” by John Harwood, CNBC. “Congress has done all that it will, which isn't much, before November's elections. Which means the venue for America's permanent partisan war for now shifts exclusively to the campaign trail.”
“New data shows Americans' incomes still stagnant after recession,” by Jason Lange, Reuters. “In what has become a recurring theme in America's long slog back from the 2007-09 recession, most U.S. households again saw no noticeable increase in their income last year.”
With little fanfare, Congress passed a continuing resolution this week to extend funding for the government through mid-December. Lawmakers now head home to campaign for midterm elections, leaving a pile of unfinished business in Washington, D.C.
Congress will not return to the capital until November 12. Bread for the World urges advocates to use the flurry of campaign activity as an opportunity to make hunger an elections issue.
“The more advocates lift up hunger as an election issue, the more Congress will act on legislation that can end hunger by 2030,” says Amelia Kegan, deputy director of Bread for the World’s government relations department.
The funding extension passed before Congress left on recess was modified to include additional funding to arm Syrian rebels, but did not include dollars to address the poverty that is driving children to flee Latin America—primarily Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—into the United States. Lawmakers did include instructions allowing certain federal agencies to spend at higher rates to address the surge of child refugees at the border.
Congress also returns home as the World Food Program (WFP) warns of unprecedented global food emergencies and dwindling resources. WFP will cut food rations to four million Syrian refugees by 40 percent in October because of shortages. Central African Republic, South Sudan, Syria, and Iraq have all been designated as level-three (the highest) humanitarian crises by WFP, straining the food aid system.
As the world’s largest donor of food aid, the United States can free up even more food resources by increasing efficiencies without raising taxes. A bill in the Senate, The Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 2421), addresses reform, and we are urging senators to cosponsor the bill.
On the heels of the news that 45.3 million Americans live below the poverty line, Congress must address a jobs agenda that includes work that pays a living wage. Tax credits that help end hunger are also expiring before the end of the year.
One bright spot is that the passage of the continuing resolution yesterday to fund the government allows us to avoid a partisan showdown like we experienced last fall that shut the federal government down for more than two weeks. However, Congress left a lot of work undone.
“These are big issues they are leaving on the table, “says Kegan. “When lawmakers return, they need to address all these issues in budget decisions by December 11.”
Kegan stresses that advocacy efforts right now will reverberate long past December. She says the elections work will play a big role in ending hunger during the 2015 session if candidates hear from voters. “ The elections,” she says, “will set the tone for next year when Congress begins work on the 2016 budget.”
The national trends both globally and domestically have been very positive. World hunger declined in 2014, and a report from UNICEF released yesterday says that child deaths have been cut in half since 1990. As the U.S. economy rebounds, more people are returning to the labor market, and poverty rates here at home have decreased slightly, by 0.5 percent, for the first time since 2006.
Now is not the time to let up on hunger. Engage the candidates and help make hunger history.
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and a senior regional organizer
This is a weekly prayer series that appears each Friday on the Bread Blog.
One aspect of Bread for the World’s new Bread Rising campaign is prayer. The campaign is asking Bread members to pray, act, and give. In this blog series, we will be providing a prayer for a different group of countries each week and their efforts to end hunger.
This prayer series will follow the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle, a list compiled by the World Council of Churches that enables Christians around the world to journey in prayer through every region of the world, affirming our solidarity with Christians all over the world, brothers and sisters living in diverse situations, experiencing their challenges and sharing their gifts.
We will especially be lifting up in prayer the challenges related to hunger and poverty that the people of each week’s countries face. In prayer, God’s story and our own story connect—and we and the world are transformed. In a prayer common to all of us—the Lord’s Prayer/the Our Father—we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This line from this prayer can also be a prayer for the end of hunger.
We invite you to join Bread in our prayers for the world’s countries to end hunger. And we encourage you to share with us your prayers for the featured countries of the week or for the end of hunger in general.
For the week of September 21-27, we pray for: Belarus, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine:
O God of all nations, we give thanks that you sustain your creation through good government and cultural diversity around the world. We pray especially for the people and leaders of Belarus, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine. May the long history of Christianity in these countries and their beautiful places of worship be a source of peace and strength, as their societies seek to resolve political conflicts and overcome economic challenges. May harmony and prosperity replace violence and poverty, so that these countries may see an end to hunger. We pray in the name of Jesus, who is the Bread of Life of the world. Amen.
Percentage of the population of these countries living below the national poverty line (2014 figures):
Source: World Bank World Development Indicators as found in the upcoming 2015 Hunger Report
By Robin Stephenson
A rising tide does not lift all boats —at least where poverty is concerned. Income gaps in America are widening. States are not experiencing economic recovery equally.
The Census Bureau followed Tuesday’s report, which showed a slight decline nationally in the poverty rate for the first time since 2006, with today’s state-by-state data. The national poverty rate is 14.5 percent, but five states still have rates over 20 percent. Mississippi tops the list with the highest poverty rate at 22.5 percent, followed closely by New Mexico, the District of Columbia, Arizona, and Kentucky.
The poverty rate should be more than a snapshot to lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and should encourage voters to make hunger an elections issue.
“The poverty numbers are encouraging,” says Amelia Kegan, deputy director of government relations at Bread for the World. However, Kegan says a cut of two percentage points is not enough and that our call as Christians is to advocate for a world without poverty and hunger.
“The pace of this economic recovery is far too slow, particularly for those at the economic margins,” Kegan continues. “It’s time our elected leaders make ending hunger and poverty a top priority, and the midterm elections provide a prime opportunity for people of faith to demand this of candidates running for office.”
The poverty rate is based on income. Although the cost of living varies geographically, the poverty threshold used by the Census Bureau does not. A family of four is classified as poor if their gross income is less than $23,830 last year, and for one person, the poverty threshold was $11,890.
The Census Bureau data comes on the heels of a recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on food insecurity – a term that describes households that do not have enough food in a given year. Not surprisingly, there is overlap between state food-insecurity and the poverty rate.
The ten states with the highest poverty rates:
- Mississippi, with a poverty rate of 22.5 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 21.1 percent.
- New Mexico, with a poverty rate of 21.7 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 13.2 percent.
- Arizona, with a poverty rate of 20.2 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 21.2 percent.
- Kentucky, with a poverty rate of 20 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 16.4 percent.
- Louisiana, with a poverty rate of 19.2 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 16.5 percent.
- North Carolina, with a poverty rate of 18.6 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 17.3 percent.
- Tennessee, with a poverty rate of 18.1 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 17.4 percent.
- Nevada, with a poverty rate of 17.4 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 16.2 percent.
- West Virginia, with a poverty rate of 17.3 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 14.4 percent.
- Arkansas, with a poverty rate of 17.1 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 21.2 percent.
Engage the candidates! Go to www.bread.org/elections to make hunger an issue in the elections!
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and a senior reigonal organizer at Bread for the World.
Nicholas Kristof, a well-known columnist for The New York Times, is making the rounds of talk shows promoting his new book, written with his wife, journalist Sheryl WuDunn. A Path Appears explores the question of how people can best make a difference in the world with the overwhelming array of charitable causes and organizations.
In an interview on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday on Sept. 14, Kristof made the argument for supporting well-established organizations. “It's incredibly glamorous to start your own organization, and it looks great on your resume. But we have this flowering of thousands or millions of tiny organizations that never gain scale and, often, after five years or so, they kind of disappear because the founder loses their initiative and enthusiasm,” he explains. “We also have to join existing enterprises and grow them.”
While existing organizations may be big bureaucracies and still aren’t able to solve enormous problems like access to water for all or the Israel-Palestine conflict, Kristoff argues that there are still advantages to working with well-established organizations.
This year, Bread for the World is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Some may think that reaching 40 is entering middle age, when we realize we’re no longer young and full of energy. But Bread has more energy than ever these days. There is new vitality as we pass the 40-year mark and set our sights on an ambitious goal – helping to end hunger by 2030 – through our new Bread Rising campaign.
What better time to set a huge goal than with 40 years of advocacy experience behind us? It’s only because we have several decades of experience in advocacy to end hunger that we’re able to set this goal, to believe that we can actually end hunger within our lifetime. We’ve built a strong foundation of legislative victories and have built up years of expertise to convince us that ending hunger is do-able.
Of course, it’s important to support startups or small organizations—the new food pantry at your church or the nonprofit trying to establish green spaces in your neighborhood. These enterprises often target local concerns and alleviate immediate needs. But nobody else is doing what Bread for the World is doing in such a big and powerful way. As with Moses, our first 40 years were only the preparation. And now we’re ready to move the mountain – Capitol Hill -- to get our government serious about ending hunger.
We’re not getting old—we’re hitting our stride! Now is the perfect time to support Bread and to be part of this 2030 goal of ending hunger.
Stephen Padre is the managing editor at Bread for the World.
We are hearing of war and rumors of war yet again as a gruesome story develops over ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. With reports of beheadings of American and British citizens, diplomatic, military, and political leaders are debating how to respond to the newest terror threat in the Middle East.
Bread for the World is watching these events out of a concern for the way the situation may create more hunger in the region. When there is war or conflict, there are often refugees and displaced people, and hunger often increases. Religious leaders are also concerned about the unfolding crisis, including Jim Wallis, president and founder of Sojourners, a partner of Bread.
In a Sept. 12 Huffington Post editorial titled “War Is Not the Answer,” Wallis presents arguments mainly about the political and military dangers of going to war again. “[W]ars often fail to solve the problems and ultimately make them worse,” he writes. He argues that a result of the previous war in Iraq was to bring us to the present situation with ISIS, to the brink of another armed intervention.
Bread is concerned not only about the humanitarian situation that a new conflict could create, but also about the attention the conflict could draw away from ending hunger. This escalation could suck huge amounts of time and money away from efforts toward ending hunger and poverty. While debates heat up over how the United States might lead in a military intervention against ISIS, the U.S. government could also get more serious about leading the world in ending hunger.
We have a window of opportunity to encourage our federal government to make ending hunger a priority. In the campaigns for Senate and House seats, which will end with the mid-term elections on November 4, candidates are courting votes from concerned citizens. The next eight weeks of campaigning are one of the best times for citizens and others in the electorate to get the attention of potential decision makers in Congress. Bread has materials to help you make hunger an election issue.
Stephen Padre is the managing editor at Bread for the World.
Photo: A child looking through fencing in the Hittein Refugee Camp, Zarqa, Jordan, 2014. (USAID)
According to a Census Bureau report released today, child poverty declined for the first time since 2000, from 21.8 percent to 19.9 percent. (Todd Post)
The good news is we are making progress on poverty in America. However, the economic recovery is leaving too many Americans behind.
More than 45 million Americans—14.5 percent—lived below the poverty line in 2013, according to a Census Bureau report released today. Poverty decreased slightly, by 0.5 percent, for the first time since 2006. Additionally, child poverty declined for the first time since 2000, from 21.8 percent to 19.9 percent.
There is still more to do. The faithful must continue to advocate for even more progress against hunger and poverty, especially during an election year.
Poverty rates are still disproportionately high among Hispanics and African-Americans: 23.5 percent of Hispanics and 27.1 percent of African-Americans live below the poverty line.
Mothers like Jacqueline Christian, who try to make ends meet on minimum wage, still wait to feel the effects of the economic recovery. National Geographic told Christian’s story in the article The New Faces of Hunger published last July.
Christian makes $7.25 an hour working full time as a home health aid in Houston, Texas. She and her two sons, who struggle to get enough to eat, were living in a homeless shelter at the time the article was published.
Recent gains in employment, with 2.8 million people returning to the labor market, have helped decrease poverty in America. Wages, however, continue to stagnate for those who have jobs. Low-income employment like Christian’s doesn’t pay a living wage.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, between 2009 and 2013 the top 5 percent of workers saw their wages rise by 1 percent while the bottom 60 percent saw hourly wages fall by 4-6 percent. Higher incomes among high-wage earners and corporations have mainly shown up in higher stock prices, and companies have been slow to invest in the real economy.
As the economy improves, our elected officials must craft policy to ensure that we don’t leave large groups of Americans behind—people like Jacqueline Christian, who works full time but can’t meet her family’s basic needs.
Encouraged by progress and recent public discourse by both parties about ending hunger and poverty in America, Bread for the World’s President David Beckmann says Congress should focus on employment and reducing income inequality.
“The best defense against hunger and poverty is reliable work,” Beckmann said in a statement to the press today. “As the mid-term election draws near, we must vote for leaders who are committed to increasing job opportunities and pray that their actions are guided by compassion and justice so that we can continue to reduce hunger and poverty.”
Thursday, the Census Bureau will release state-level data.
Congress returned to Washington last week with no shortage of issues to address. But the House and Senate will be in session only for a couple of weeks before heading home to campaign.
What will members of Congress do in the few days they’re in Washington? How will they respond to the current crises here and around the world? How do the upcoming midterm elections impact things? Most importantly, what can you do to affect their legislative agenda?
Join us this month for Bread for the World's montly national call and webinar. Hear the latest inside news from Capitol Hill and predictions for the coming months. Get an additional elections update, and learn more about how you can raise hunger as an elections issue.
We hope you can join us on Tuesday, September 16 at 4 p.m.(EDT).
Lavida Davis is the director of organizing and grassroots capacity building at Bread for the World
Hunger in the News: Sen. Stabenow Honored, Migration and Gender Violence, South Sudan Famine, Short Session for Congress
A regular, non-comprehensive roundup of current news links on hunger and poverty issues from around the Web.
“Small Farm Program Paying Big Dividends,” by Jerry Hagstrom, National Journal. “Fresh from a research trip to Africa, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow last Wednesday received the McGovern-Dole Leadership Award from the World Food Program USA, a private-sector group set up to promote the World Food Program, the United Nations agency that distributes food aid.”
“Poverty: It’s More than a Job Market Story,” by Emily Cuddy, Isabel V. Sawhil,l and Richard V. Reeves, Brookings. “We predict that there will be a gradual decline in the headline poverty rate for the foreseeable future; however, we do not expect it to return to its pre-Great Recession level by 2024 despite the fact the unemployment rate is projected to do so.”
“80% Of Central American Women, Girls Are Raped Crossing Into The U.S.,” by Eleanor Goldberg, The Huffington Post. “As the number of Central American women and girls crossing into the U.S. continues to spike, so is the staggering amount of sexual violence waged against these migrants who are in search of a better life.”
“Guest viewpoint: September is National Hunger Action Month,” by Andrew Morehouse, The Republican. “September is national Hunger Action Month. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and the entire Feeding America nationwide network of 200+ food banks have joined forces to raise awareness to fight hunger.”
“South Sudan food crisis: Surviving on water lilies,” by Emmanuel Igunza, BBC. “The BBC's Emmanuel Igunza visits a South Sudanese village where people have resorted to eating water lilies, amid fears that a famine is looming.”
“Congress tries to rush home for Election Day,” by Jamie Dupree, WSB News. “The U.S. Congress may have only returned to Washington, D.C. last week from a lengthy summer break, and Election Day may still be seven weeks away, but lawmakers could try to wrap up work this week in order to rush back home to campaign for the November elections.”
“Voters support a path to legalization for immigrants here illegally,” by Seema Mehta, Las Angeles Times. “Though deeply concerned about the effects of illegal immigration on California, state voters broadly support a path to legalization for the nation's 12 million unauthorized residents, according to a new poll.”
“US household food security fails to improve,” by Haya El Nasser, AlJazeera America. “New government report covers depth of hunger and malnutrition problems, which remain at historically high levels”
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