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Ending global hunger and extreme poverty is within our grasp. Incomes are rising even in countries once thought to be facing insurmountable challenges, showing that progress is possible anywhere when barriers are removed. A global consensus has now formed that 2030 is an ambitious but attainable target date.
In the United States, the preferred way of ending hunger is by ensuring that everyone who wants a job can get one and that it pays a sufficient wage. The bare minimum that defines a "decent" job is a sufficient wage, which should provide families with the means to put food on the table. For those who are raising children, a decent job should allow them to balance their responsibilities as an employee and parent.
Decent jobs are also the best way to end hunger and extreme poverty in developing countries. The zero-sum narrative holds that prosperity in another part of the world must come at the expense of workers in the United States. But it doesn't have to be this way. Better policies can make the difference. We can reclaim the American Dream for all in our country, and we can share that powerful dream with our neighbors who are striving for more than a subsistence life. This is the jobs challenge that the 2018 Hunger Report addresses.
The incomes of all but a small percentage of families in the United States have been stagnant for a generation. Since 1980, an overwhelming share of gains from economic growth in the United States has gone to the richest households, starting at the top 1 percent of all income earners (see Figure 1). At the other end of the income distribution, the lowest-earning households have been losing ground. Incomes are worth less today than in 1980 when adjusted for inflation.
Much of the progress against hunger and poverty in the United States over the past 50 years is due to government programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). These programs are indispensable. They have had to carry the load for national food security even though economic growth has been more than adequate. If growth had been shared more equally, it could have raised real incomes for everyone.
Labor is more than a commodity. The work people do is a source of dignity in their lives, or at least that is how it should be. It is dehumanizing when wages are not sufficient to provide for basic living costs. Millions of working families have little left after paying for housing and transportation, health care and child care. Food is the most flexible item in a household budget, which is why hunger is usually episodic. It shows up after fixed costs are paid—when monthly SNAP benefits are exhausted but the next paycheck has not yet arrived.
The economy has undergone profound changes in the last several decades related to trade, technology, and globalization. The average worker has been buffeted by fast-paced shocks with little to no help from government in navigating and adjusting to the new economy.
Government has a role to play in protecting and supporting workers while ensuring that markets function efficiently. This report discusses many policies that would improve the job prospects of low-income Americans. A good place to start is the minimum wage. The federal minimum wage, currently set at $7.25 an hour, has not been raised since 2009. When adjusted for inflation, it is worth 27 percent less today than it was 50 years ago. A higher minimum wage has a gravitational pull on what workers in all low-wage jobs are paid. David Cooper of the Economic Policy Institute estimated that if the federal minimum wage was $9.25 per hour, rather than $7.25, eighteen million workers would likely benefit—most earning above the minimum wage—due to the ripple effects.
Public investment in infrastructure should include investments to connect workers in communities of concentrated poverty with jobs. Public transportation can connect job seekers in distressed urban communities with wider regional opportunities. In rural areas, high-speed internet can expand opportunity and overcome barriers to jobs, education, and social services. The poorer the community, the weaker its infrastructure. Investments in human infrastructure—for example, child nutrition and child care—are cost-effective investments in the current and future workforce.
Men who have been incarcerated account for as many as one-third of all nonworking men between the ages of 25 and 54. They are one of the populations in our society most vulnerable to hunger and poverty. Most are fathers who want to support their children. But they are subject to a lifetime of prejudice and employment discrimination. The American Bar Association has documented 38,000 statutes nationwide that apply to individuals with criminal records—more than half of which can be used to deny employment. Some members of Congress from both parties agree that more needs to be done to remove the barriers and address the labor market challenges that formerly incarcerated people face. Sentencing reform legislation could reduce the extent of incarceration and strengthening prison programs could prepare inmates to re-enter the job market. A nationwide infrastructure initiative could be a new source of jobs for these returning citizens.
Undocumented immigrants are another group especially vulnerable to hunger and poverty, despite their higher rates of employment and entrepreneurship compared with the rest of the U.S. population. Undocumented immigrants are more likely to be the victims of wage theft than any other group of workers. A common form of wage theft occurs when employers pay less than the minimum wage. Employers can take advantage of undocumented workers, knowing that they are unlikely to report a violation for fear that drawing attention to themselves may put them at risk of deportation. Notwithstanding the heated rhetoric around immigration policy, polling consistently shows that most Americans support immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for people who are undocumented.
In recent decades, as global poverty rates have fallen, developing countries have become much more integrated into the global economic system. The tremendous reductions in hunger and poverty in developing countries are directly related to the opening of their economies to international trade. U.S. development assistance and private sector investment have been contributing factors.
"As leaders of churches and Christian organizations in the United States, we give thanks to God for the progress made against hunger and poverty in recent decades. We recognize that to reach the goal of ending hunger and poverty by 2030, it is necessary to address challenges that workers face around the globe."
In the United States, trade has tripled as a share of the national economy, and the driver of that growth has been trade with developing countries. In 1985, developing countries were the destination of 29 percent of U.S. exports. Today, they make up approximately half the market for U.S. exports, and as poverty and hunger rates around the world continue to fall, we can expect the share of trade with developing countries to continue to rise. To put it simply, new consumers in these countries will have more money to spend on imported goods from the United States and other countries.
Economic growth from trade creates jobs in the United States. But we cannot overlook the fact that trade has harmed some American workers, particularly in the manufacturing sector. Surveys show that most Americans blame poorly designed trade agreements for the decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs. This is partly true, but not the whole story. Compared to other high-income countries, the United States invests a much lower share of national income in helping displaced workers adapt to the changing global economy. The United States also invests less in the health, education, and economic security of its people.
Most important is the failure of government policies to ensure that all U.S. jobs pay a living wage. Many U.S. workers are frustrated by their shrinking paychecks—and it is this frustration, in part, that is contributing to a zerosum mentality and weakening support for U.S. global leadership against hunger and poverty. Continued progress against hunger and poverty at home and abroad depends on improved job opportunities for U.S. workers, beginning with renewing their faith in an American Dream that is accessible to all.
There are multiple reasons why the United States should not relinquish its leadership role in global development. U.S. investments over several decades have spurred remarkable progress against hunger and disease. The United States has led the fight against HIV/AIDS and supported innovations in vaccines, agricultural inputs, nutrition, basic education, and improved outcomes for women and girls. The pace of change has been nothing short of historic, leading all nations of the world to adopt a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Among them are goals to end hunger and extreme poverty by 2030.
Achieving the SDGs will not be easy. It will require extraordinary effort from all sectors and all countries. The challenges facing developing countries remain daunting. Without continued investment, the progress will be difficult to sustain, and we may see backsliding. The World Bank estimates that an additional 1.6 billion jobs will need to be created over the next 15 years to absorb the rising number of young people entering the labor force, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Tens of millions of youth without a way to earn a living is a recipe for civil strife. The majority of chronically hungry people live in countries affected by conflict. "Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers" is an often-quoted remark by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. In fact, America's most trusted military leaders rarely lose an opportunity to champion the role of development assistance in U.S. foreign policy.
Rising inequality, declining economic mobility, and stagnant wages among low- and middle-income families have eroded faith in democratic institutions. Politics seems stacked in favor of those who have the resources to buy influence in government. This may have been how it always was, but the sharp rise in income inequality has exacerbated the impact of the increased role of money in politics.
The big tax cut of 2017 is an example of how corporations and high-income people successfully used money to influence Congress. According to the Tax Policy Institute, 83 percent of the direct benefits from the tax cut will go to the top 1 percent of the income distribution. The bill has been promoted as a way to improve job opportunities for working Americans, and some of the money may indeed trickle down. But a tax cut for corporations and high-income people is clearly not the best way to improve job opportunities for working Americans.
Government sets the rules that shape our daily lives, and our democracy gives us a say in establishing those rules. The solutions to the dysfunctionality of U.S. politics must come mainly from us—we, the people. We can be involved as citizens through legislative advocacy (telling our members of Congress what we want them to do on specific issues) and elections advocacy (getting in on the ground floor).
Bread for the World has been organizing churches and Christians to urge Congress to take actions that are important to hungry people for 44 years. In its early years, Bread for the World played important roles in establishing the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) nutrition program and child survival programs around the world.
Bread for the World and other faith-based and civil society partners have protected funding for domestic anti-poverty programs and won consistent increases for international development assistance.
Many times, we have been struck that our advocacy has been able to transcend bitter partisanship and overcome powerful political interests. We've seen that even small numbers of conscientious, committed citizens can often sway the votes of members of Congress. Whether they are liberal or conservative, members of Congress often pay attention when voters back home urge them to do the right thing for hungry people.
The Hunger Report would not be possible without the consistent and generous support of our sponsors. We are especially grateful for the following:
Margaret Wallhagen and Bill Strawbridge
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) is the global humanitarian organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Through an international network, ADRA delivers relief and development assistance to individuals in more than 130 countries—regardless of their ethnicity, political affiliation, or religious association. By partnering with communities, organizations, and governments, ADRA is able to improve the quality of life of millions through 9 impact areas, which are: Livelihoods & Agriculture, Children, Water, Sanitation & Hygiene, Community Health, Disaster Response, Economic Growth, Hunger & Nutrition, Social Justice, and Gender Equity. adra.org
American Baptist Churches USA World Relief supports, enables and encourages emergency relief, refugee work, disaster rehabilitation, and development assistance. It is funded by the One Great Hour of Sharing offering. It is the responsibility of the World Relief Committee to designate where donations will go in the coming year. Today, One Great Hour of Sharing serves people in over 80 countries around the world. Sponsored by nine Christian U.S. denominations and Church World Service, One Great Hour of Sharing makes sure that it can respond to needs as soon as they happen and that tens of thousands of people receive support for ongoing relief, rehabilitation, and development. abc-oghs.org
Community of Christ engages the church and others in a response to the needs of hungry people throughout the world. Its primary purpose is to support programs of food production, storage and distribution; fund projects to provide potable water; supply farm animals; instruct in food preparation and nutrition; and educate in marketing strategies for produce. It also seeks to advocate for the hungry and educate about the causes and alleviation of hunger in the world. cofchrist.org
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission of Jesus Christ and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. The Fellowship's purpose is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission. One of the Fellowship's strategic initiatives is engaging in holistic missions and ministries among the most neglected in a world without borders. thefellowship.info
Covenant World Relief is an effective and efficient humanitarian aid ministry of the Evangelical Covenant Church with a more than 60-year history. Covenant World Relief collaborates with partners around the world to provide relief, rehabilitation, and transformational community development. These partnerships empower local ministries, increase local involvement, reduce overhead and facilitate an immediate response to disaster and human suffering. Our charge is to love, serve and work together with the poor, the powerless, and the marginalized. covchurch.org/cwr
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America World Hunger is the anti-hunger program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It responds to hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world by addressing root causes. Through a comprehensive program of relief, development, education, and advocacy, people are connected to the resources they need to lift themselves out of poverty. The international work of ELCA World Hunger is carried out through ELCA companion relationships as well as through trusted partners like Lutheran World Relief (LWR) and The Lutheran World Federation (LWF). Because of these long-held connections to partners around the world, ELCA World Hunger efforts are efficient and effective. The domestic work of ELCA World Hunger is carried out primarily through the Domestic Hunger Grants Program (relief, development, and community organizing projects). elca.org
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations was founded with a mandate to raise levels of nutrition and standards of living, improve agricultural productivity and better the condition of rural populations. FAO is also a source of knowledge and information, helping developing countries and countries in transition modernize and improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices. fao.org/home/en
Foods Resource Bank is a Christian response to world hunger. Its goal is for hungry people to know the dignity and hope of feeding themselves by making it possible for them, through sustainable smallholder agricultural programs, to produce food for their families with extra to share, barter or sell. Food Resource Bank endeavors to build networks with various agricultural communities in "growing projects" in the United States, allowing participants to give a gift only they can give. These volunteers grow crops or raise animals, sell them in the United States and the resulting money is used by implementing members (denomination and their agencies) to establish food security programs abroad. FoodsResourceBank.org
Independent Presbyterian Church (IPC) Foundation is a non-profit corporation formed in 1973 in Birmingham, Alabama to extend IPC's ministries through the use of endowments. The IPC Foundation invests its funds in innovative and responsive ways so that it's assets may serve Christ's Church, the community, and the world. Each year, the IPC Foundation awards grants for "the benefit of mankind, the education of youth, the relief of human suffering, and propagation of the Christian religion." ipc-usa.org
United Church of Christ (National) supports 1.2 million members in congregations and other settings of the United Church of Christ in developing relationships with the greater church community that are global, multiracial and multicultural, open and affirming, and accessible to all. Programs of United Church of Christ national setting include Volunteer Ministries and National Disaster Ministries, as well as ministries of Refugee & Immigration, Health & Wholeness Advocacy, and One Great Hour of Sharing and Neighbors in Need special mission offerings. ucc.org