289 posts categorized "Solutions to U.S. Poverty"
Ofelio, owner of a tamale business in Washington, D.C., is featured in the 2014 Hunger Report. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)
By Robin Stephenson
Barbeques, the end of summer, and a three-day weekend are what Labor Day means for most Americans. For me, the welcome work break was a chance to catch up on neglected household chores. Celebrating the contributions of workers to the strength of our nation or thinking about today’s labor market never entered my mind.
That is, until last night.
My neighbor stopped by and mentioned another neighbor who has been out of work for more than a year and still hasn’t found employment. “She is at her wit’s end,” says my friend with exasperation. “She has a college education, is smart and hardworking, and still gets no offers.”
My unemployed neighbor is not alone. There are 3.2 million long-term unemployed, people out of work for more than 27 weeks. Congress failed to extend emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) in December, cutting off critical assistance to more than a million job seekers. Never before in the history of EUC has a Congress failed to extend the emergency aid when unemployment is so high.
My neighbor’s misfortune affects all of us. Lost productivity to the labor market decreases pressures on wages, which is why many Americans have not seen raises in the last few years. High unemployment means lost productivity and lost tax revenue, causing additional spending by the federal government to fill in the gaps.
There are signs that things are getting better. However, we are not out of the woods yet. The jobless rate, which peaked at 10 percent in 2009, has still not reached pre-2008 levels. Today the unemployment rate is 6.2 percent, although some economists call the number deceptively low. Full employment is a job rate below 5 percent and indicates that anyone who wants to work can find a job.
The federal government has a role to play in strengthening the labor market and getting the long-term unemployed back to work. The best solution to ending hunger is a job that pays. The number of low-income households could be cut by more than half if a full-time job were available for everyone who wanted one.
The 2014 Hunger Report proposes bold steps to end hunger in the United States by 2030. Returning the economy closer to the full employment level of 2000, it would be possible for President Obama and Congress to reduce hunger in America by 25 percent by 2017.
A first step to full employment includes policies that stimulate the economy as part of a budget strategy instead of the job-killing cuts, such as the automatic spending caps called sequestration. Congress should also raise the minimum wage. If wages had kept up with productivity growth over the years, the minimum wage today would be $18.67.
Perhaps it is time that Labor Day becomes more than a three-day weekend. Labor Day should be a time of reflection and action—a time to ask how we can get people in America, including my neighbor, back to work and into jobs that pay a living wage.
Robin Stephenson is national lead for social media and a senior regional organizer at Bread for the World.
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.
Childbearing should not result in hunger. But when policies do not protect pregnant workers from job loss, they can experience a “poverty spell.”
In a letter to Congress last week, Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, urged passage of legislation that would protect pregnant women in the work place. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 1975/S.942) would protect pregnant workers from job loss so they can continue to feed their families.
Without work-place protection, Hilda Guzzman suffered health complications during her pregnancy. She told her story to The National Women’s Law Center. Refused by her employer the accommodation of a simple stool, Hilda was left standing eight to 10 hours a day in her position as a cashier. The toll on her body and her unborn child resulted in frequent visits to the emergency room and eventually the loss of her job. “During this time away from work, I had no paid leave or any other income,” she wrote.
America’s poverty-wage workforce is predominately female. The 2014 Hunger Report: Ending Hunger in America points out that women are already disadvantaged in the workforce. Improving job quality is one step toward ending hunger in America by 2030 and will require leadership at the federal level.
July 31, 2014
Dear Members of Congress:
As an organization dedicated to ending hunger, Bread for the World urges you to support the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 1975/S.942). We cannot end hunger through our nutrition programs alone. Hunger will persist as long as families lack the resources they need to put food on the table. The best pathway out of poverty is a good job. That is why the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is so important. This bill would not only promote nondiscrimination in the workplace, but would ensure that pregnant workers can continue to feed their families by providing protection from unreasonable job loss and denial of sufficient accommodation at work.
Three-quarters of women entering the workforce will be pregnant and employed at some point in time. Many pregnant women, particularly those in physically strenuous jobs, inevitably face a conflict between their responsibilities at work and the physical demands of pregnancy. Despite existing protections, pregnant workers are often unnecessarily terminated from their jobs or denied minor modifications that would allow them to continue working during and after their pregnancy.
This is unacceptable; a choice between working under unhealthy conditions and risking the loss of a job is no choice at all. We are deeply concerned that this population is disproportionately at risk for slipping into poverty; 28.9 percent of pregnant and postpartum women in the United States receive WIC, all of whom have incomes below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. Today, having a baby is one of the leading causes of a “poverty spell.” Allowing a pregnant woman to continue working could ensure that she is able to feed her family and meet basic needs without risking her own health or the health of her child.
Pregnant workers carrying God’s children should be celebrated—not punished. Employers must recognize the physical demands of pregnancy and make reasonable accommodations so that no pregnant worker should feel she has to sacrifice her pregnancy or her income. Please support the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.
President, Bread for the World
By Kimberly Burge
Kids out of school. Unstructured days. For many people, summer vacation elicits memories and a picture of freedom and carefree times. For children who depend on food assistance at lunch during the school year, summer vacation can also bring hunger.
Of the 20.6 million schoolchildren receiving food assistance at lunch, 18 million do not receive summer meals. While there are 99,000 schools operating the National School Lunch Program, only 35,500 Summer Food Service Program sites operate nationwide. That leaves a critical gap for too many months of the year. To read more about summer hunger from the PBS Newshour, see “Why summer is the hungriest season for some U.S. kids.”
Children also continue to struggle in poverty. Last week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released the 25th edition of Kids Count, an annual report that features the latest data on child well-being for every state, the District of Columbia and the nation. The report found that 22 percent of U.S. children currently live in poverty. That number has grown in recent years, due to the economic recession and the weak labor market, especially for those without a college or high school degree.
From 1990 to 2000, the official child poverty rate had declined from 21 percent to 16 percent. The robust economy contributed to that drop. But, Kids Count finds, so did an expansion of policies designed to “make work pay”—things like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and food stamps (SNAP), important programs for which Bread members advocate, along with child care subsidies and health insurance for children. According to the report, “[These] policies supplemented low wages and reduced work expenses, contributing to the decline in child poverty. However, these gains began to unravel in the early 2000s because of a lackluster economy.”
You can read the findings from Kids Count and see where your state falls in child poverty rates here.
Kimberly Burge is the interim associate online editor for Bread for the World.
The annual KIDS COUNT Data Book by the Anne E. Casey Foundation shows that child poverty in the United States is on the rise. (Rick Reinhard)
In a disturbing trend that prioritizes the wealthy over the most vulnerable Americans, the House today passed H.R. 4935 by a vote of 237 to 171. Bread has dubbed it the “reverse Robin Hood” bill, which takes from the poor to give to the rich. The bill could push 12 million people—including 6 million kids--into poverty or deeper poverty while giving a tax break to households making $150,000 to $205,000.
In a media statement today, Bread for the World president, Rev. David Beckmann said, “It is unacceptable that we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world and have one of the highest child poverty rates among developed countries. Our policies should help lower-income working families climb out of poverty - not push them deeper into it.”
We do not expect the Senate to take up the Child Tax Credit Improvement Act of 2014. Instead, the bill, which does not extend critical improvements to the child tax credit for millions of low-income working families, could be considered as part of a tax extenders bill after the November mid-term elections. Tax credits, like the child tax credit (CTC) and the earned income tax credit (EITC), keep more people – including children – out of poverty each year than any other federal anti-hunger program.
Although H.R. 4935 passed, 173 members of Congress still opposed the bill, thanks to the calls Bread for the World’s anti-hunger advocates made to their representatives – including hundreds of calls this morning! Bread is calling for any final bill on the child tax credit to include the 2009 improvements, which enable more low-income working families to receive a larger credit. Your advocacy helped build momentum and educate lawmakers that this is an issue the faith community cares about.
In 2009, Congress made the CTC available to low-income working families, enabling them to begin to receive part of the credit once earnings reached $3,000. Under the recent House-passed bill, a single mother with two children who works full-time at the minimum wage (earning about $14,500 a year) would completely lose her CTC of $1,725.
Bread for the World has long championed refundable tax credits as a way to reduce hunger in America and will continue to do so. We encourage advocates to bring up the importance of tax credits with their legislators during the August recess and make hunger an election issue. We will also continue to keep advocates apprised as legislation moves forward this year and use every opportunity to restore the 2009 improvements.
Today’s vote was extremely disappointing, but we should use it to energize our conviction that the direction in Washington, D.C., must change. It is time to buck the trends and make ending hunger a priority. Child poverty is far too high in the United States - in 2012, 23 percent of U.S. children lived in poor families. Congress unleashed its own version of Robin Hood on millions of children today, but we as the faith community will continue to fight for what’s right.
See here how your representative voted, and read Bread for the World’s press release “Bread for the World Disappointed with House Child Tax Credit Bill.”
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”.
Urgent: Voting on Child Tax Credit Tomorrow Could Push More Than Six Million Children Into Deeper Poverty
In a reverse Robin Hood move, the House could pass a bill that would take from the poor and give to the rich – unless advocates convince them not to. Call your representative today and tell them to vote no on this bill that would harm our nation’s children.
Update: Vote postponed until Friday.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 4935 - a bill that changes the Child Tax Credit, one of our country’s key anti-poverty programs. Disappointingly, this bill expands the credit for higher income families and cuts the credit for low-income working families.
Bread for the World has long championed the Child Tax Credit and even made it, along with the Earned Income Tax Credit, the focus of our 2010 Offering of Letters. Tax credits help working families make ends meet so they can provide for their families. We have been urging Congress to make the credits permanent because studies have proven that these programs pull more people out of poverty than any other federal anti-hunger program.
Given the alarming rates of child poverty in the United States, altering programs that are helping kids makes no sense. Recent data from the KIDS COUNT Data Book reports that about 23 percent of children in 2012 lived in families below the poverty line – more than 16 million children. To our shame, the United States ranks below other wealthy countries in child poverty.
Currently the Child Tax Credit provides taxpayers up to $1,000 for each dependent child under age 17 and is available to families at most levels of income. If made law, H.R. 4935 would take away the credit from the single mother who works full-time at minimum wage (about $14,500 a year). Passage means that 12 million people, including 6 million children, would be pushed into poverty or deeper poverty. The bill also targets immigrant families, requiring parents who claim the credit to have Social Security numbers, regardless of the status of the children who would benefit. An estimated 5.5 million children would be affected.
At the same time, families earning between $150,000 and $205,000 could now claim the credit — families who do not need offsets nearly as much to help raise their children.
Tax credits and a strong faith in God helped Heather Rude-Turner of Northern Virginia to move herself and her children from a homeless shelter to the security of a home. Tax credits gave her the boost she needed so her story of struggle had a good ending. Her children, Naomi and Isaac, have better opportunities and a brighter future because of tax credits.
How can we face the future as a nation if we cannot support all of our children as they develop? How can we leave hard working families without support when a job doesn’t always pay enough to make ends meet? House Bill 4935 is simply the wrong direction for the country and the wrong direction for our children.
Call 1-800-826-3688 and ask for your representative today – voting is expected tomorrow. Tell him/her to vote “no” on H.R. 4935.
Photo: Heather Rude-Turner, 31, kisses her daughter Naomi, 5, after attending church. (Laura Elizabeth-Pohl/Bread for the World)
"It’s easier to build a fence at the top of a cliff than drive an ambulance to the bottom." - Art Simon in Writing Hunger into History.
By Robin Stephenson
Tianna Gaines-Turner knows something about cliffs. The working mother of three children has been climbing and falling off the poverty cliff for years.
Gaines-Turner told her story to the House Budget Committee on July 9, during the fifth War on Poverty hearing – a series of hearings exploring how to better address poverty in America. Gaines-Turner, a member of Witness to Hunger, has been the first expert witness invited to testify who lives in poverty.
“We are always trying to climb up. There is a constant climb,” Gaines-Turner said of her and her husband’s struggle to make ends meet with a combined income of roughly $14,000 a year. Federal benefits, such as housing assistance, medical aid, and food stamps, fill in the income gaps so that the Gaines-Turners can care for their children. All three of their kids require daily doses of asthma medicine and their twins suffer from epilepsy.
Budgeting each month in the Gaines-Turner household is a balancing act. When circumstances change, she feels the “cliff effect.” A small increase in income can decrease the amount of food stamp benefits the family can receive. As she improves her circumstances, with each additional dollar earned she loses needed federal assistance. Yet, she cannot build assets and save for the future in case of hardship. “If you have savings,” she says, “your caseworker says you are not eligible for programs.” So when a crisis hits, like a reduction in working hours, the Gaines-Turner family slides back down the cliff, never making it to stable ground.
House Budget Committee members differ on their approach to ending poverty. There are those who believe the safety net creates dependency and those who see federal anti-poverty programs as a bridge out of poverty. Asked if she thought federal programs promoted dependency, Gaines-Turner said, “I don’t think anyone ever wants to rely on federal programs. I feel like people do want to go out and get a job.” Jobs, she noted, can be hard to come by depending on where you live. They also do not always pay a living wage. She went on to respond to notions that poverty was a condition of laziness. “There is not a lazy bone in my body,” she said. “People put that label on us to put up a smoke screen so they don’t see have to see what is really going on.”
Bread for the World Institute outlined its own plan for ending hunger in America in its 2014 Hunger Report. Bread for the World's strategy stresses policies to reduce unemployment and improve the quality of jobs. It also urges support of a strong safety net, investments in people, and partnerships between community organizations and government programs.
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.
The Gaines-Turner family, and millions of working-poor people, need Congress to build a fence at the top of the cliff by funding a strong safety net. At the same time, Congress must also craft policies that lead to living-wage jobs so that families can walk into a better future.
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior regional organizer.
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.”
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.
A woman serves dinner at a soup kitchen. (Screen shot from A Place at the Table, courtesy of Participant Media)
“I just want my kids to be fed," Jaime Grimes of Lincoln, Neb., recently told NBC News. The former teacher and mother of four visits food pantries, grows food in a community garden, and receives food stamps (SNAP); her children participate in a variety of nutrition programs, from school lunches to a backpack program that sends them home with food once a week. Still, it's not enough.
Although the effects of the Great Recession are fading for some, many families are still struggling to put food on the table. Feeding America's 2014 Map the Meal Gap report, released earlier this week, shows that food insecurity continues to touch every county in the nation, and that children are at especially great risk of experiencing hunger.
According to the report, even in the most food-secure state—which is Nebraska, where Grimes and her children live—more than 1 in 10 children struggles with hunger.
“We haven’t really seen increases in food insecurity [since the recession], which is a good thing. The downside of that is there are still way too many food insecure people," said Bread for the World policy analyst Christine Melendez Ashley, in the same NBC News piece.
The Map the Meal Gap report does note that federal nutrition programs and the emergency food system "weave a comprehensive nutrition safety net, reaching food-insecure individuals at different levels of poverty," Still, there is a need to "strengthen anti-hunger programs and policies to ensure food-insecure individuals are eligible and have access to adequate levels of assistance."
Some key finding from Map the Meal Gap include:
- 324 counties in the United States are high food-insecurity counties; minorities are disproportionately affected
- In every state, children are at a higher risk of food insecurity compared to the overall population.
- Of the counties with food insecurity rates in the highest 10 percent, 51.5 percent were rural, even though rural counties represent only 42.5 percent of all counties in the United States.
What does hunger look like in your community? How many people live below the SNAP threshold? What is the average cost of a meal? Whether you live in Nebraska, with its low rate of food insecurity, or Mississippi—the state with the highest number of people struggling with hunger—viewing the map reminds us of the need to advocate to strengthen our country's safety net and ensure that all are fed.
Get updates on issues and actions to take on behalf of hungry people.