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“May Day” may bring to mind garlands of flowers and dancing, but earlier this week, on May 1, the world also observed an important date for anti-hunger advocacy, International Workers Day. The United States celebrates Labor Day in September, but International Workers Day is a holiday in most industrialized countries and many developing countries, ranging from the U.K. and Israel to Ghana, Tanzania, and Sri Lanka.
Bread for the World Institute’s recently released 2018 Hunger Report, The Jobs Challenge, emphasizes the necessity of many more jobs that pay a livable wage to ending hunger in the United States. Even beyond fair pay, decent work requires respect for workers’ rights. The United States and the world have made advances in workers’ rights, but we still confront some familiar problems.
International Workers Day actually originated in the United States—in 1886 in Chicago. According to labor studies professor William J. Adelman, “No single event has influenced the history of labor in Illinois, the United States, and even the world, more than the Chicago Haymarket Affair.”
The Haymarket Affair was a peaceful rally of about 80,000 people in Chicago. Its principal goal was securing an eight-hour work day. The rally called much-needed attention to a downside of industrialization: the fact that millions of workers in the new factories endured long hours, low pay, and dangerous conditions. The Haymarket Affair is also remembered for later violence and civil rights violations, but neither of these should be allowed to overshadow the powerful impact of so many people coming together to express their concerns.
Today, the eight-hour work day and 40-hour work week are the American norm. Labor leaders of the past would likely be dismayed to learn, however, that many U.S. workers continue to work far more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. This is because low-wage workers often need two or three jobs, usually a combination of part-time positions, to make ends meet. People who are paid the minimum wage (by “people,” we generally mean women, particularly women of color) have an annual income of about $15,000 if they work full-time, year-round. Moreover, they are losing ground. As The Jobs Challenge explains in greater detail, the real value of the minimum wage has fallen dramatically in recent years. At one time, a full-time minimum-wage worker could meet the basic needs of a family of four. That is impossible today.
Decent work should also, at the very least, protect workers’ lives and health. Many of us learned in school about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which killed nearly 150 factory workers in 1911. Many victims were young women, including girls as young as 14, and most were recent European immigrants. The usual working conditions in such factories were poor, with few health and safety protections. Investigators suspected that locked exits had compounded the tragedy, as did rescue workers’ lack of essential equipment, such as ladders that reached the top stories.
The term “developing” countries is often a synonym for countries in the midst of industrialization. Just over 100 years after the Triangle fire, in 2012, almost 300 workers died in a factory fire in Karachi, Pakistan. They were trapped behind locked doors, “raising questions about the woeful lack of regulation in a vital sector of Pakistan’s faltering economy.” The Karachi victims were mainly men younger than 25. Only hours before, at least 25 workers had died in another fire, this one at a shoe factory in the city of Lahore.
As discussed in the final chapter of The Jobs Challenge, most of the world’s hungry and poor people work in agriculture or another area of the informal sector, where very few workers have basic health and safety protections or other regulations needed to protect their right to dignified work. We offer recommendations as to how the United States can help overseas workers improve their lives.
Later in this issue of Institute Insights, Todd Post has more to say on The Jobs Challenge and its formal launch, which took place April 10 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Also in this issue, we offer several reflections on how to enable women, particularly mothers, to escape hunger, malnutrition, and their devastating consequences.
Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.
Photo: Margery Austin Turner of the Urban Institute speaks during the launch of the 2018 Hunger Report. Eric Bond for Bread for the World
By Todd Post
Bread for the World Institute last month launched the 2018 Hunger Report: The Jobs Challenge: Working to End Hunger by 2030. As in previous years, the event was held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and featured an excellent lineup of speakers.
The new Hunger Report focuses primarily on the jobs crisis in the United States, although there is a chapter on jobs in developing countries. A word like crisis may sound like a misnomer, since the federal unemployment rate held steady at 4.1 percent for six months and most recently dropped to 3.9 percent. The crisis stems from wage stagnation—the fact that the incomes of most households have been stagnant for decades. Worse, the incomes of the lowest-paid households have actually decreased when accounting for inflation. They can afford fewer necessities than before.
David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World and Bread for the World institute, opened the launch by discussing the main recommendations of the report. He emphasized that many already have bipartisan support—for example, investments in upgrading the nation’s infrastructure. There are partisan differences in specifics, but widespread agreement that the nation’s physical infrastructure is in dire need of improvement. Infrastructure investments not only have the potential to create millions of jobs for workers of varying incomes, but would also make the U.S. economy more productive in the long run. Productivity growth is a key component of raising the living standards of everyone. You can find all the recommendations in the report here.
After Beckmann’s opening remarks, Asma Lateef, director of Bread for the World Institute, moderated a discussion of jobs and the economy between Jared Bernstein, a senior economist with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and a former member of the Obama White House, and Jimmy Kemp, president of the Jack Kemp Foundation. Jimmy Kemp’s father, Jack Kemp, was a Republican member of Congress, a Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and a candidate for Vice President.
Bernstein and Kemp disagreed sharply on some issues, such as taxes, with Bernstein favoring much higher marginal tax rates for the richest households. But the two were also able to find some common ground; for example, on the need to invest in communities with perennially high rates of concentrated poverty. This is a crucial theme in the 2018 Hunger Report, because where there are high levels of poverty, there are corresponding levels of unemployment and hunger.
Following the discussion between Bernstein and Kemp, I moderated a panel that included Thea Lee, economist and president of the Economic Policy Institute; Diana Ramirez, labor organizer and deputy director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center United; Margery Austin Turner, urban policy expert and senior vice president of the Urban Institute; and Rafi Peterson, reentry specialist and organizer with Southwest Organizing Project in Chicago.
Not only were each of the panelists there to shed light on prominent themes of The Jobs Challenge, but you could say that the panelists themselves were featured in the report. The Economic Policy Institute is the premier research organization dedicated to bringing the problems of working families to the forefront of critical policy debates. Its research helped untangle the factors behind wage stagnation, an important topic throughout the report. The report pays particular attention to restaurants as a very large employment sector with many low-paying jobs. The Urban Institute provided insightful analysis for our coverage of policies related to urban areas of concentrated poverty. I visited Chicago in the summer of 2017 to meet with Peterson and his colleagues at the Southwest Organizing Project. I was so impressed by the work they are doing in the communities they serve, some of the poorest in the city, that I knew I wanted to feature their work in the report and at the launch.
The 2018 Hunger Report is the fourteenth I’ve worked on, and may possibly be the most important of all. Jobs are the defining issue linking the U.S. economy with those of developing countries. Many U.S. workers stuck in jobs that don’t pay enough to meet their basic needs believe, mistakenly, that gains in developing countries are threatening their own prosperity. Among the many reasons to help working poor Americans is to prevent them from becoming immovable opponents of U.S. policies aimed at enabling developing countries to increase their own prosperity. It is self-defeating in the end, because once developing countries achieve some gains, they become customers for U.S. goods and services—the very markets that workers here need to thrive.
Trade and many of the other topics surrounding work, particularly jobs that pay enough to support a family, are without a doubt complex and thorny. The 2018 Hunger Report will help you untangle these knotty issues.
Todd Post is senior researcher, writer, and editor for Bread for the World Institute.
By Lauren Freed
We set aside one Sunday in May to celebrate Mother’s Day, but mothers work 365 days a year to earn a living and care for their children. There is no better way to show our appreciation for all moms than by taking steps to reduce their high rates of hunger and poverty.
The mothers most at risk are single heads of household with children still at home. White female heads of household are about twice as likely to be food insecure and poor as the “typical” U.S. resident, while women of color who are single mothers run about three times the risk. The children in these families, of course, are food insecure and poor along with their mothers.
There is no doubt that the circumstances of each individual and family vary tremendously. But when large numbers of people with something in common, such as being a single mother, are at higher risk of hunger in a wealthy country such as ours, logic tells us that public policies and social practices influence such an outcome.
Gender and racial bias contribute heavily to the lower incomes of female heads of household. Women are overrepresented in the 10 lowest-paid jobs in the U.S. economy. People considered under labor law to be “tipped” workers can legally be paid as little as $2.13 an hour—a sub-minimum wage that hasn’t been increased since 1991.
A full-time, year-round worker who is paid the regular minimum wage (which has been $7.25 an hour since 2009) earns about $15,000 a year. There are only a handful of counties in the entire United States where a minimum-wage income is enough to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment. It is not difficult to see that subminimum-wage workers, even those working two full-time jobs (80 hours a week) cannot make ends meet.
In addition to being more likely to work in a low-wage job, the evidence shows that women, particularly women of color, are paid less than men for the same work—as little as little as 54 cents for every dollar their male counterparts are paid.
Becoming a mother lowers women’s earning potential. While all women face a gender wage gap, those without children have a smaller wage gap. At the same time, mothers, particularly single mothers, acquire a new, very expensive monthly bill—child care. In many states, child care costs more than tuition at a public university. Infant and toddler care is particularly expensive.
These are only a few of the many factors contributing to the greater difficulty single female heads of household have in supporting their families. Progress has been slow and difficult to achieve, but there are a range of proposed solutions that have shown potential. In fact, there are multiple policy changes that, if implemented, can dramatically reduce the institutional barriers confronted by female-headed households.
Clearly, ending the gender and racial pay gaps, and ensuring that women are not funneled disproportionately into low-paid jobs by ending job segregation, will have enormous impacts. Equity pay audits and class action lawsuits are just two examples of strategies that can speed up progress.
It is also important to prioritize steps to make every job a decent job with a livable wage. This must include ending the sub-minimum wage as well as increasing the regular minimum wage and indexing it to inflation. For more on what needs to be done, see our recently-released 2018 Hunger Report, The Jobs Challenge.
Other steps that could be implemented quickly include supports to help working mothers bridge the gap between their expenses and what their jobs pay. These include, for example, subsidized day care and increases in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) amounts for which low-wage workers could qualify.
All of these steps forward would likely be more easily accomplished if women gained political representation that approached, or at minimum came much closer to, their proportion of the population. In our 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Thrive, we discuss why political representation at all levels is so important and some approaches to increasing women’s participation in decisions that affect them.
Lauren Freed is a spring 2018 intern with Bread for the World Institute.
By Michele Learner
Becoming a mother—pregnancy and childbirth—has been a dangerous undertaking throughout human history. Even beyond the tragic loss of life, maternal mortality also carries wider implications for hunger, poverty, child survival, and development. For example, children who lose their mothers are at far greater risk of malnutrition than those whose mothers are able to care for them.
Over the past century, childbirth has become much safer in industrialized countries because of advances in fields such as medicine, nutrition, and sanitation. In the past generation, developing countries as a group have also made progress—uneven but significant. Although the world fell short of meeting the global Millennium Development Goal of cutting maternal deaths by three-quarters by 2015, there was significant progress: nearly half of the mothers who would have died in 1990, survived in 2015.
One important factor in making childbirth safer is the presence of a skilled birth attendant, whether that is a doctor, nurse, midwife, or specially trained community health worker. The proportion of the world’s births attended by a trained person rose from 61 percent in 2000 to 78 percent in 2016.
Now more than ever, a mother’s survival and future reproductive health depend on where she lives, her socioeconomic status, and whether she is a member of a minority group. It is far less risky to have a baby in Greece or Iceland than in Sierra Leone or Chad. Women from higher-income families, regardless of nationality, are more likely to have trained assistance and less likely to die than their less wealthy neighbors. In the poorest countries, there are stark differences between the maternal mortality rates of women from the wealthiest 20 percent of the population and those from the poorest 20 percent. In developed countries, the gap is smaller, but women from wealthier families are still at lower risk than those from low-income backgrounds.
After the Millennium Development Goals concluded in 2015, the United States and 193 other countries adopted a new set of goals, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs call for ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030. The guiding principles of the SDGs include “leave no one behind,” which is clearly necessary to end rather than merely reduce hunger, and “reach the furthest behind first,” a strategy that will improve the likelihood that the goals will be achieved by 2030.
The SDG target for maternal mortality is to reduce the global death rate to less than 70 per 100,000 live births, while also ensuring that no country has a maternal mortality rate more than twice the global rate. This, while it would not mean that childbirth in the Central African Republic would be just as safe as in Sweden, would be an enormous improvement. Today, the death rate is 100 times higher in some countries than in others. The maternal mortality rate for developing countries as a group as of 2015 was 239 per 100,000, while for developed countries, it was 12.
Most maternal deaths are preventable. An important first step is for women to be well- nourished before they become pregnant. Pregnant women need at least four prenatal checkups as well as skilled care during labor and delivery. Some conditions that increase risks should be diagnosed and managed during pregnancy if not earlier—for example, diabetes. Other problems are best addressed before a woman becomes pregnant, because they take longer to treat and are in any case debilitating to all people, pregnant or not—for example, iron deficiency anemia. Still other causes of heightened risk stem from the social and economic context and must be addressed in that same context. One example is child marriage, since childbirth is far more dangerous for girls under 15 than for women in their 20s.
Systemic bias based on racial, religious, ethnic, or other identity is a cause of heightened risk for far too many women. For example, the United States is one of the very few countries where maternal mortality was higher in 2015 than in 1990. The Washington Post called the 2015 U.S. statistic of 14 deaths per 100,000 mothers “a national embarrassment." American women are more than four times as likely to die as women in Poland or Greece. The United States ranks only 46th out of the 184 countries for which the World Health Organization has data.
What explains this poor performance? The answer is the far higher mortality rate among African American mothers. In an April 2018 feature article, “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis,” The New York Times reported that at every income level and every educational level, African American mothers are more likely than white mothers to die as a result of pregnancy or childbirth. The article discusses racial bias in health care—for example, less access to specialized diagnostics and a greater likelihood that African American patients’ concerns will be dismissed.
It also describes another risk factor, one that can fairly be described as a national shame: “Recently there has been growing acceptance of what has largely been, for the medical establishment, a shocking idea: For black women in America, an inescapable atmosphere of societal and systemic racism can create a kind of toxic physiological stress, resulting in conditions — including hypertension and pre-eclampsia — that lead directly to higher rates of infant and maternal death.” That is a statement that should spur the United States to make far more serious and systematic efforts to end racism and its impacts.
Perhaps today’s most extreme example of higher risk based on group identity is the hatred, said to be entirely or primarily rooted in religion, which puts Rohingya women in extreme danger of maternal mortality. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority community in Myanmar, formerly Burma, that for months have been fleeing what the United Nations calls a textbook case of ethnic cleansing by the majority Hindu population. Among the Rohingya refugees who have arrived in neighboring Bangladesh are about 70,000 pregnant women.
Tania Akter was in the first graduating class of the midwife program that Bangladesh established several years ago. The program is designed to reduce Bangladesh’s high rate of unattended births—less than half of all pregnant women give birth with trained help. But currently, Akter is a midwife supervisor working with Rohingya refugees. As someone who is, without a doubt, on the front lines of the fight against maternal mortality, her message is a powerful one:
“[The refugees] need more care than normal pregnant women because many of them have walked for many days to get here, and they don’t take any food… In [the refugee camp in] Balukhali last September, one mother arrived in the early morning. She had just delivered a baby girl on the way to Bangladesh… What can I say? She was so weak and so dehydrated. She had walked for four days to get here… Later I took a history from the husband and he told me that all their family members were killed in Myanmar.”
Michele Learner is associate editor with Bread for the World Institute.
By Michele Learner
Note: For more information and detailed recommendations, please see Bread for the World Institute’s April 2018 briefing paper, The Face of Famine in South Sudan: A Call to Bridge the Humanitarian-Development-Diplomacy Divide. A two-page summary of the paper is also available.
Near-famine conditions continue to put the lives of millions of people at risk in South Sudan. In February 2018, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that famine is once again imminent in South Sudan. Parts of the country’s Unity State were declared famine areas for several months in 2017. By definition, a famine area is one where 30 percent or more of all children under 5 suffer from acute malnutrition. But even before a famine is declared, conditions are deadly. The only other famine this century, in Somalia, was declared in July 2011—but half of the 260,000 deaths took place before then. Those who die of malnutrition are disproportionately young children, particularly children younger than 2.
Four million people, about a third of the country’s entire population, have been displaced by the country’s civil war, now entering its fifth year, which pits several armed factions against each other and the government. About 2 million people are displaced within the country, with the other 2 million living as refugees in neighboring countries. Uganda alone has taken in more than 1 million people from South Sudan.
According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an average of 1,800 South Sudanese refugees arrived in Uganda every day of 2017. The refugees reported “forced conscription, sexual violence, and targeted killings by armed actors” as their main reasons for fleeing their communities and country.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) reported that among the refugees are 900,000 children younger than 5 and 220,000 pregnant and lactating women. By May 2017, more than 75,000 unaccompanied and separated children had already arrived in Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia.
Displaced people who have not crossed an international border, as well as people who are trapped in their home communities without food, are frequently in greater need still. Late in July 2017, for example, relief workers reached Mvolo County in the state of Western Equatoria, which had been inaccessible due to violence for the previous six months. A rapid needs assessment identified the biggest problems as increasing violence, lack of access to safe drinking water, widespread crop failure, and the collapse of markets. Many families had no food at home and were surviving on wild fruit.
In collaboration with other humanitarian organizations, the World Food Program (WFP) helps vulnerable communities in more than 80 such hard-to-reach areas, using an approach known as the integrated rapid response mechanism (IRRM). The strategy is to deploy mobile teams of aid workers—technical specialists in several fields—to assess and respond to the most immediate needs. In July 2017, IRRM reached 1.7 million people inside South Sudan.
Resolving the crisis in South Sudan requires saving as many lives as possible, ending the senseless conflict that has led to famine and near famine, and shifting the orientation of the global humanitarian and development community from “delivering aid” to “ending need.”
The top priorities now are humanitarian assistance and a negotiated peace agreement.
Humanitarian assistance has thus far been insufficient to meet the needs. In addition to making more resources available, humanitarian efforts could be enhanced by purchasing food from local and regional sources where possible, to speed delivery and to support markets; providing tailored support to refugee host countries; and ensuring that the government and all opposition groups allow humanitarian aid to reach affected communities.
To help establish the conditions for peace, an arms embargo should be instituted and enforced, and policies to curtail money laundering should be put in place. The international community should support local peace negotiators, since the success of efforts to rebuild trust at local levels will be critical if any national-level peace agreement is to last. Outside partners should also facilitate inclusive participation in country-led peace efforts, such as an initiative launched and led by the South Sudan Council of Churches.
Michele Learner is associate editor with Bread for the World Institute.
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