Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

389 posts categorized "Poverty"

The Poverty Rate State-By-State

 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 consistently 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:

  1. Mississippi, with a poverty rate of 22.5 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 21.1 percent.
  2. New Mexico, with a poverty rate of 21.7 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 13.2 percent.
  3. Arizona, with a poverty rate of 20.2 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 21.2 percent.
  4. Kentucky, with a poverty rate of 20  percent and a food-insecurity rate of 16.4  percent.
  5. Louisiana, with a poverty rate of 19.2 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 16.5 percent.
  6. North Carolina, with a poverty rate of 18.6 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 17.3 percent.
  7. Tennessee, with a poverty rate of 18.1 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 17.4 percent.
  8. Nevada, with a poverty rate of 17.4 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 16.2 percent.
  9. West Virginia, with a poverty rate of 17.3 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 14.4 percent.
  10. 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.

Interactive map via The Washington Post

 

 

Slight Decline in Poverty Rate, Still Millions Live Below Poverty Line

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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.

 

Americans Struggling with Hunger Left Behind in Economic Recovery

By Alyssa Casey Graph USDA

The number of Americans struggling to put food on the table remains stubbornly high, according to new data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 2013, 14.3 percent of U.S. households experienced food insecurity. “Food insecure” households are those that have difficulty consistently providing enough food for all household members due to lack of resources.

The number of households at risk of hunger declined slightly from 14.9 percent in 2011, but those hit by the 2008 economic crisis have seen little relief. In 2007, 36.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households. In 2008, that number jumped to 49.1 – an increase of nearly 13 million Americans at risk of hunger. Five years later in 2013, the same number of Americans – 49.1 million – struggle to feed their families. While the country as a whole slowly recovers from the 2008 economic crisis, it appears that those struggling with hunger are being left behind.

More than 15.7 million – nearly a third – of Americans at risk of hunger are children. Households with children are more at risk of hunger than those without children. This risk increases even further when the household is headed by a single parent. Households headed by a single woman are among the hardest hit, with 34.4 percent of these households at risk of hunger – nearly 2 ½ times the national average.

When so many children and families wrestle with the threat of hunger year after year, it is inexcusable that elected officials address hunger so rarely.

The Momentum is Building

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty made alleviating hunger and poverty in the United States a top priority for the government. Incredible progress was made in the initial years of the War on Poverty, but eventually poverty and hunger were swept under the rug, and politicians largely stopped talking about the issue.

Recent years have seen momentum building around making hunger and poverty history:

  • The economic recession drew attention to the prevalence of hunger in the United States.
  • Filmmakers and the media are increasingly drawing attention to widespread hunger.
  • The 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty kept the spotlight on hunger.
  • Advocates like you told your elected officials that hunger matters.
  • Prominent politicians on both sides of the aisle are talking about America’s hunger and poverty problem and exchanging ideas for legislative solutions.

What Can You Do?

Keep this momentum going and make sure candidates know that you care about hunger.

As we near national elections in November, we have the opportunity to ask candidates to make ending hunger a national priority. You don’t have to be a policy expert; simply telling your candidates you care about hunger and poverty lets them know they need to take action on these issues.

Ask your candidates what their plan is to address hunger. If a candidate is running for reelection, look at how they voted. Then tell them to vote for legislation that makes positive strides towards ending hunger, not legislation that cuts safety net programs and makes it harder for people to support their families.

 At Bread for the World, we have your back! We are telling candidates across the country that Americans want to end hunger. If you do the same, we can use this momentum to make ending hunger a national priority once again. Let’s make hunger an election issue!

Alyssa Casey is Bread for the World’s government relations coordinator

Justice Work is Hard. Poverty is Harder.

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(Bread for the World)

By Donna Pususta Neste

Justice work is hard. Those who desire their government to work for all its citizens are up against some mighty forces that seek to maintain the status quo. There are those who benefit from others’ poverty, vulnerability, and voicelessness. These people are few in number in a society, but their power runs deep and wide, because they have the funds and know-how to spread misinformation and buy influence. There is a general attitude of indifference among many who are comfortable and refuse to see the root causes of the suffering of people who are poor. 

Justice workers are also up against fear. People are often afraid to use their power. They are afraid of retribution by those who want everything to remain the same, a fear not always unfounded. They are also up against a certain kind of powerlessness that comes with poverty.

Their most natural allies—people who struggle to support themselves and their families—have little time for the actions necessary to alleviate the state of their existence: to go to city hall to protest a law that infringes on their rights, to visit their representatives in Washington to advocate for a law that would benefit them, or to study policies that hold them back. Most of their time is used on actions necessary to survive. To walk their children to day care before hopping a bus to a job that barely sustains them. To spend most of their free time visiting clothes closets, food pantries, and community meals in order to make ends meet and feed their children. To keep seemingly endless appointments with government bureaucrats in order to turn in applications, proofs, and justifications of their needs.

Poverty is stressful. When a person is losing sleep over how to come up with the rent, there is little to no extra energy left over to organize around the issue of a living wage. That’s why I do my best to raise my voice with our nation’s leaders, to make the lives of people who struggle a little bit easier.

Donna Pususta Neste is a Bread for the World board member and former coordinator of Neighborhood Ministries in Minneapolis.  

Waiting

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From 2001 to 2011, the percentage of seniors experiencing hunger increased by an astonishing 88 percent. (photo courtesy Meals on Wheels)

By Donna Pususta Neste

Mary (not her real name) is intelligent and gifted with many skills. She is in her seventies, has a number of health problems and disabilities, and lives on Social Security. Poverty has made her life difficult. 

I live four blocks from her in a culturally and racially diverse, low-income, inner-city neighborhood. In my own retirement I have taken on the task of picking her up two days a month at her house, which is rotting and falling apart all around her, in order to bring her to one of three food pantries she visits. She hobbles to my car with the help of her cane.

If it is a certain Friday in the month, we will go to two food shelves in one day. That day will look like this: In the morning I will give her a lift to a faith based organization that feeds their guests breakfast and then hands out groceries. Mary wants to be there early so she has time to go to another organization in the neighborhood that will provide her with produce, donated by local supermarkets after the items are beyond their peak of freshness. These two trips will take up most of her day. 

At both locations she will wait in line for at least an hour before she even gets in the door. Then she will wait another hour or more before her number is called and she is able to “shop” for her groceries. When she is finished, she calls me and waits to be picked up. I realized how hard it must be for someone who can hardly walk to stand in line for so long. So last month, I put a light-weight, folding lawn chair in the trunk of my car for her to use. Though Mary buys some of her food, most of her nourishment comes from her three monthly food shelf visits. She can’t afford the luxury of breezing into her local supermarket to pick up a few things as needed.

Waiting, waiting, waiting for even the most basic necessities is the plight of people who are poor. The neighborhood in which I live has many poor people and many agencies that help with their needs. It is not unusual to see a long line of young moms with babies in cheap strollers holding the hand of their toddlers to keep them from running into the street. Elders shuffle forward with their walkers. Homeless people stand silently with their bundles under their arms. Everyone waiting in front of one of those many agencies for the doors to open. 

Learn more:  Keeping the Dream Alive: Hunger by the Numbers among Older Americans.

Donna Pususta Neste is a Bread for the World board member from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

 

 

 

Feeding America Report: Reliance on Emergency Food Increasing

By Robin Stephenson

Electricity, rent, or food on the table to feed your kids? This choice is a game of poverty roulette that families like Jim and Christina Dreier grapple with each month and it isn’t fun.

The Dreiers and their three children live in Mitchel County, Iowa. Like many families, they use a patchwork of assistance – WIC, SNAP (food stamps), and the food bank – to make it through the month. Jim Dreier works two jobs, but that is not enough.

“It’s rough every day.  Where’s my next meal going to come from?” asks Christina.

Reading the Dreier’s story in a National Geographic article, “The New Face of Hunger,” one gets the impression that this is a family that lives on the edge of catastrophe.  It’s a life of fear and worry as they are always one step behind.  

“Moneywise,” says Christina, “coming in is a lot less than what has to go out every month.”

The Dreiers are food insecure – a term that describes households that do not have enough food in a given year. And they are not an anomaly. The shocking truth is food insecurity is epidemic in America. A job is no longer insulation from poverty and hunger.

According to a report released this week by Feeding America, one of Bread for the World’s partner organizations, one in seven people - 46.5 million Americans a year- rely on food banks to feed themselves and their families. Over half of the households included at least one person who was employed.

In the past, a trip to the food bank was an emergency situation that followed a job loss or financial crisis. Today, food insecurity is a chronic condition for too many Americans. But instead of helping low-income families, policy proposals in Congress appear to be working against them.

Earlier this year, the House passed the fiscal year 2015 House budget proposal, which makes deep cuts to programs for hungry and poor people in the United States, including cutting food stamps by $125 billion. Just last month, the House voted to reduce the child tax credit to the most vulnerable families, which would push an estimated 12 million people into deeper poverty.

A job that pays a living wage, not an emergency food box, is the only real buffer against hunger. Yet wages have not kept pace with economic productivity since 1950. Today, 28 percent of Americans make poverty level wages. A vote to raise the minimum wage failed earlier this year in the Senate.

It is time for Congress and the administration to set a plan to end hunger in the United States. Churches and charities can only provide a fraction of what is needed and cannot adequately address the root causes of poverty. The status quo is not ending hunger in America; policy targeted at ending hunger needs an overhaul.

We will never food bank our way out of hunger, so let’s stop trying. We also need the government to do its part.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior organizer in the western hub.

 

Charting a Bipartisan Path Out of Hunger

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Philadelphia, Penn. resident Nadine Blackwell lost everything after a medical emergency. She tells her story in the 2014 Hunger Report. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

An unfortunate trend in the United States is that living costs are increasing but incomes are not – and it’s increasing hunger in America. Recent data from the KIDS COUNT Data Book reports that about 23 percent of children in 2012 lived below the poverty line.

“Whether you are a Republican or Democrat—let’s all agree that America deserves better,” said Chairman of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in a speech today at the American Enterprise Institute. Ryan unveiled a new set of policy reforms aimed at reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility throughout America.

“We want to start a discussion,” said Ryan this morning. The discussion draft Expanding Opportunity in America is an important contribution to a serious bipartisan dialogue about ending hunger and poverty.

"We are pleased to see such a high-ranking member of Congress take poverty seriously and offer his own plan to address it," said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. "We may have disagreements with some of his proposals, but we hope others in Congress will take note and offer their own plans."

Bread for the World supports some of the proposal's recommendations.

  • Bread believes sentencing reform is necessary, starting with reducing sentences for non-violent drug offenders.
  • Bread supports expanding the earned income tax credit (EITC) for adults without children.

However, Bread for the World strongly disagrees with other recommendations.

  • Turning SNAP (formerly food stamps) into a block grant would increase food insecurity when there are spikes in need.
  • Job creation and economic growth are critical to ending hunger and poverty, but work requirements are not effective if there are no jobs available.

Bread for the World Institute outlined its own plan for ending hunger in America in the 2014 Hunger Report. Bread for the World's strategy stresses policies to reduce unemployment and improve the quality of jobs. It also urges a strong safety net, investments in people, and partnerships between community organizations and government programs.

Read Bread for the World’s full press release, “Bread for the World Encouraged by Paul Ryan’s Plan for Poverty”.

Second Chances: Reforming Policy for Returning Citizens

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Dominic Duren, assistant director of the HELP Program for returning citizens, poses with his son Dominic Jr. in Cincinnati, Ohio. Learn more about the HELP Program in the 2014 Hunger Report. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

By Robin Stephenson

Collateral damage is not always the first thing one notices, but laws and rules regulating citizens returning to society after imprisonment have caused a national wound. It's time we start the healing process. Individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color – are paying the price for our broken justice system.

America has always valued the second chance. Our prison system was built on the principle that if you pay your debt to society, you can rejoin society with a fresh start. That is not how it works anymore. Even the smallest of infractions lead to lifelong exclusion.

The practice of mass incarceration – imprisonment of citizens at record levels – traps individuals and whole communities in cycles of hunger and poverty. And it should trouble us even more that it is disproportionality affecting black and brown communities. Civil rights lawyer and author of The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander, defines mass incarceration as a form of racialized social control that creates an undercaste.

In the past 40 years, the criminal justice system has expanded, and now includes 45,000 laws and rules that create barriers for returning citizens to rebuild their lives. The United States has the highest incarceration rates in the world, its state and federal goverments spend an estimated $74 billion a year on corrections. As prisons are privatized, the incentive to incarcerate citizens is driven by windfall profits and access to government dollars. The American Civil Liberties Union says the business model of for-profit prisons is dependent on high rates of incarceration.

A report by National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers points out that lack of access to public resources creates barriers when the citizen returns home. Barred resources that are vital to reestablishment can include "employment and licensing, housing, education, public benefits, credit and loans, immigration status, parental rights, interstate travel, and even volunteer opportunities.” With 1 in 4 citizens estimated to have a criminal record, a large portion of American talent is being squandered due to exclusion.

Exclusion is addressed in Bread for the World Institute's 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. Hunger becomes a byproduct of social exclusion when citizens are pushed to the margins of society. "Policies that make millions of returning citizens ineligible for nutrition assistance,” writes the Institute, “only exacerbate the problem." The report goes on to note that “studies show that access to public services that improve economic security, especially soon after people are released, reduces recidivism rates."

People of faith should be concerned with the dignity of returning citizens, as we are all made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). Restorative justice for the returning citizen is supported by biblical tradition, and should be a matter for the faith community. Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, was subject to oppression at the hands of the Roman Empire and imprisoned. He paid the ultimate price for our second chance. It’s time to pay it forward. Grace is about redemption and reconciliation through God’s unwavering love for humanity. When society embodies that grace, we stop punishing people long after they have completed their sentences, and stop turning their families and communities into collateral damage.

Why Are So Many Seniors Hungry?


Photo © Lindsay Benson Garrett/Meals on Wheels

Senior years are supposed to be "golden" years—a time when people who've worked hard their entire lives can enjoy retirement, travel, indulge in new hobbies, and play with grandchildren. Unfortunately, for many elders, senior years are hungry years.

A new Bread analysis, "Keeping the Dream Alive: Hunger by the Numbers among Older Americans," shows that from 2001 to 2011, the percentage of seniors experiencing hunger increased by an astonishing 88 percent. In 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, 2.8 million households with seniors experienced food insecurity. That same year, 3.9 million adults age 65 and older lived below the poverty line.

Why? In part, the Great Recession. Most people in this country felt the pinch of the U.S. economic downturn, but vulnerable populations, including seniors, have been especially affected. Also, seniors are less likely to ask for help than other groups—either because they don't know they're eligible for assistance, or because of the stigma around asking for it, they may not access feeding programs, such as Meals on Wheels, or federal nutrition programs, such as food stamps (SNAP). 

In one of the stories in the Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning series on food stamps in America—"In Florida, a food-stamp recruiter deals with wrenching choices, focused on SNAP outreach to hungry seniors"— food stamp outreach worker Dillie Nerios bumps up against these issues in her work. The piece details one especially heartbreaking interaction between Nerios and a senior couple who lost their home and savings during the recession and are struggling to keep their heads above water, but still are hesitant to sign up for SNAP. Nerios tells them they've worked hard their entire lives, paid taxes that help fund safety net programs, and that there is no shame in asking for just a small amount of help so that they're able to afford food that will help keep them healthy and vibrant. Still, they hesitate. “It’s hard to accept,” the husband says.

While help may indeed be hard to accept, at a time when 30 percent of seniors who have worked their entire lives and contributed greatly to society now have to choose between feeding themselves or purchasing medication, something must change. We must work to strengthen programs that offer seniors assistance, and also erase the stigma that prevents them for asking for a helping hand, so that they can enjoy their golden years and not have to worry about putting food on the table.

Read more in Bread for the World's analysis "Keeping the Dream Alive: Hunger by the Numbers among Older Americans," and view the infographic "Food Insecurity: A Harsh Reality for Many Seniors."

Senate to Vote on Minimum Wage Increase

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View the full "Raise the Minimum Wage" infographic from the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America.

Update, 12:40 p.m. The Senate bill to raise the federal minimum wage failed on a 54-42 vote; 60 votes were needed to move forward with the legislation. The bill will likely come up again for a vote, so continue to contact your members of Congress and tell them to pass the bill. 

Ending hunger in America is possible, but jobs—and jobs that pay a decent wage—are key to making it happen. “The most important antipoverty policy is maintaining high rates of employment,” writes Todd Post, senior editor of Bread for the World Institute’s annual Hunger Report, in the briefing paper, Ending Hunger in America. “In addition, low-wage jobs have to pay enough so that no full-time worker is living in poverty with his/her family.”

As early as today, the Senate is expected to vote on Senate bill 1737, which would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016, index it for inflation, and raise the tipped minimum wage to 70 percent of the general minimum wage. Passing the bill will be no easy task. It will require a sustained and loud effort by faithful advocates, who must use every opportunity to let Congress know that workers deserve a fair deal. 

Several states have passed minimum wage increases, with some getting closer to the $10.10 mark.  Bread for the World recommends a $12 minimum wage in the 2014 Hunger Report.  That is the amount it would take for a single breadwinner in a family of four, working full-time, year-round, to pull his or her family just over the federal poverty line.

Earlier this year, President Obama raised the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour for federal contractors by executive order, which is a good first step. In a press release, Bread for the World President David Beckmann praised the action, and added, “Now is the time for Congress to do its part.”

Income inequality in 21st century America is one of the great scourges of our time. Productivity has steadily risen since the 1950s, but the real value of the minimum wage has declined, leaving working families that depend on the minimum wage struggling to put food on their tables. In a report released earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office said that wage increases would have an overall positive affect on the economy. Raising the wage is not just smart economically, but is morally necessary when a few have more than enough and too many struggle to make ends meet.

“Too many workers in this country face hard times as a result of insufficient wages,” said Beckmann. “There is no reason that full-time workers should struggle to provide for their families.”

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Take Action: Call your Senators with this toll-free number (1-800-826-3688) and let them know you support a minimum wage increase. Tell them to pass S. 1737 today because it is time to give American workers a fair deal.

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