- About Hunger
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In late September, not far from Bread for the World Institute’s office in downtown Washington, DC, an intersection usually crowded with cars and delivery trucks was instead occupied by a large boat, symbolizing the threat posed by Earth’s rising sea levels.
Climate activists shut down this major intersection and several others during the morning commute, drawing attention to the urgent need for the United States to rapidly reduce the use of fossil fuels that are causing climate change. Nearly all vehicles still run on fossil fuels. People with senior positions in Washington—perhaps including some of the motorists who encountered delays and detours— are often influential in determining federal policy. They could help both hungry people and the planet by championing strategies that will reduce and then eliminate U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Later in this issue of Institute Insights, we celebrate the leadership of Latinx in the environmental and climate movements. The knowledge and experience of people whose voices have historically gone unheard are vital. Other pieces reflect on two U.S. groups still left behind as the country makes slow progress on hunger, African Americans and single mothers and their children, and offer thoughts on durable solutions for refugees.
The recent U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York, convened by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, did not go far enough. Guterres, who had urged national governments to come prepared with serious commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, said he was more optimistic after the summit than he had been before. There were pledges of additional funding for the Green Climate Fund; some large investment groups announced that they would divest from fossil fuels; and 70 countries pledged to announce in 2020 new commitments to lower emissions. Unfortunately, these 70 countries do not include the largest emissions producers—combined, they are responsible for less than 7 percent of the global total. Two of the top emissions producers, the United States and China, said nothing about stepping up their efforts.
As growing numbers of people in the United States are coming to realize, climate change is already affecting us and we need a nationwide transition to a much more sustainable economic model. There is no doubt that the process will be messy—major change always is—and success is far from inevitable. But what needs to be done is not an all-or-nothing, win-or-lose proposition. As an industrialized nation, the United States has experience in how to fashion and adopt new technologies—from scaling up successful efforts while continuing to improve them, to steering research and development funds to promising climate-friendly initiatives.
How people frame the problem is, perhaps, more important than physical and technological challenges. It will influence whether the United States will do its share to halt climate change in time. Robert Jay Lifton looked at developing attitudes toward climate change in the context of his research on people’s responses to an earlier moral dilemma, nuclear war. He wrote, "People came to feel that it was deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to engage in nuclear war, and are coming to an awareness that it is deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to destroy our habitat and create a legacy of suffering for our children and grandchildren.” Climate change is a problem of unprecedented scope and complexity. Responding to it, however, may look a lot like responding to other human problems, in that it all comes down to motivation.
Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.
P.S. For more on climate change and four other top-priority action areas for the anti-hunger movement, see the 2019 Hunger Report, Back to Basics: How to End Hunger by 2030.
By Karyn Bigelow
For many Latinos, as for other people of color, climate change is a daily lived experience. Whether they live in Central, North, or South America, their lives are touched in some way by climate change.
“Part of the reason my family migrated [from Mexico] was due to a lack of resources … Some of us have been pushed out of our countries and we are seeing [climate change] in other parts of the world,” explained environmental justice advocate and organizer Erica Fernandez Zamora.
Bread for the World Institute published From Hunger to Hunger: Undocumented Immigrants Face Hunger on Both Sides of the Border as part of its work on immigration. Forced to leave their countries of origin because of hunger and deep poverty, many migrants continue to struggle with hunger when they reach the United States. Few jobs that pay a livable wage are available for people who may have little education, may speak little or no English, and/or may not have the legal right to work in this country.
Their personal experiences are one reason so many Latinos are leading the way in climate change advocacy. Climate change puts the safety and livelihoods of large numbers of people at risk, and Latinos are acutely aware of this. A study done by Yale University found that Latinos in the United States are more likely than the rest of the U.S. population to report experiencing impacts of climate change.
Texas, California, Florida, and Puerto Rico have some of the largest concentrations of Latinos in the United States, and all have been struck in recent years by devastating environmental disasters—hurricanes, wildfires, extreme heat, and drought. In the United States, 80 percent of all farmworkers are Latino, and Latinos make up nearly 7 percent of the nation’s natural resource laborers. Food production is highly sensitive to changes in the environment, including extreme heat and rainfall totals that are heavier than usual. This means that the livelihoods of Latinos are more likely to be at risk from climate change than those of other workers. A 2015 drought in California—relatively minor compared to some later droughts—nevertheless cost the jobs of 10,000 farmworkers.
Latinos are taking the initiative to be part of the solution as well. At both the local and national levels, organizations such as GreenLatinos and the Latino Community Foundation are advocating for much-needed action around climate. Their focus issues range from carbon pricing to conservation to farmworker rights.
It is important for people of color to be at the table for climate advocacy. The faces of climate leadership are disproportionately white, even though people of color are more likely to be adversely affected and are doing a great deal of advocacy work on the ground. Here is how Fernandez Zamora describes her efforts to ensure that the perspectives of people of color are well represented: “I think one of the opportunities that being a Latina gives me is the ability to see [climate change] from a different perspective, because of our experiences. When we go into climate spaces, we bring our people with us. I work hard to make sure my community has a voice and I bring it to the table.”
As the Latino population, including the number of citizens with voting rights, continues to grow, Latinos are poised to become a strong voting and advocacy base for climate and other issues. “We are growing in numbers, there are a lot of us, and we can impact policy,” said Fernandez Zamora.
Karyn Bigelow is a research associate with Bread for the World Institute.
By Marlysa D. Gamblin
Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the data collected in its most recent annual Household Food Insecurity in the United States. The data are for the year 2018.
The national hunger rate is 11.1 percent of U.S. households. This translates to 37.2 million people who are food insecure (at some point during 2018, they did not know where their next meals were coming from). The hunger rate has finally fallen to match that of 2007, the last year before the Great Recession, and it is significantly lower than its peak during the recession, 14.9 percent in 2011.
Of the millions of people who face food insecurity, a disproportionate number are people of color. The new data indicate that the hunger rate for African Americans in particular has not improved for the past two years, and the current rate of 21.2 percent has barely fallen below the pre-recession level of 22.2 percent. African Americans were the only group to have experienced an increase in food insecurity two years ago.
Why? Many factors, including job segregation, mass incarceration, health disparities, and concentrated poverty, contribute to the much higher rates of food insecurity among African Americans. But they are different aspects of the same root cause—racism. Bread for the World Institute’s Racial Wealth Gap Learning Simulation walks participants through the policies of structural racism that perpetuated economic disparities between African American households and white households—beginning with hundreds of years of slavery.
Racism impacts every community of color. Latinos, for example, also have a disproportionate rate of food insecurity—16.2 percent in 2018, according to the data just released. The country’s history of racism, however, has led to centuries of public policies that discriminate against African Americans more than any other group. The impact of the Great Recession is a good example. In many cases, decades of redlining had kept African Americans from buying homes at all, while in other cases, they were offered only subprime loans, regardless of factors such as their income and credit history. When the housing market bubble burst in 2008, millions of families were affected, but African Americans lost their homes to foreclosure more frequently than others. In fact, this was the biggest transfer of black wealth to white households in U.S. history. In turn, this led to additional hunger in the African American community and made it far harder to recover from the recession.
What’s next? For years, people in the United States have tried to forget our history of structural racism and deny that it is relevant to today. This year marks 400 years since the first documented group of African slaves, people from Angola, were brought to the United States. Let’s honor this historical moment by acknowledging our country’s history of slavery and its aftermath of racism, a particularly ingrained and virulent form of racism that traps African Americans near the bottom on most indicators of wealth and health.
To learn more about how to apply a racial equity lens to reduce disparities in hunger and health and respond to historical traumas, read Bread for the World Institute’s new report on racial equity and hunger, and/or visit bread.org/racialequity.
Marlysa D. Gamblin is domestic advisor for policy and programs, specific populations, at Bread for the World Institute.
By Michele Learner
As discussed earlier, USDA recently released data on U.S. household food insecurity for 2018. One sizeable group of people at significant risk of hunger is single mothers and their children, whose food insecurity rate is 27.8 percent. The national average is 11.1 percent.
The United States is a wealthy country, and it should not be necessary for people to worry about where their next meals will come from. This makes it particularly shocking that hunger is so common among the one-third of all children being raised by single parents. Their families are also 4.5 times as likely to live in poverty as two-parent households.
Moreover, the 27.8 percent figure is for all single mothers and their children, regardless of race/ethnicity. Yet people of color are far more likely to live below the poverty line than whites. Food insecurity data disaggregated by both family composition and race/ethnicity is often not available, but evidence still suggests that more than 28 percent of single mothers of color and their children—perhaps far more—face hunger.
The Kids Count Databook for 2019 reports that 47 percent of all U.S. children are children of color. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals requires naming as a top priority ending hunger among single mothers of color and their children. This is part of the goals’ call to “reach the furthest behind first.”
As Bread for the World Institute frequently mentions, gender equity in general, and closing the gender pay gap between women and men in particular, is essential to ending hunger. The 2019 Hunger Report, Back to Basics: How to End Hunger by 2030, offers additional information, recommendations, and advocacy success stories on gender and hunger.
White women are currently paid between 78 cents and 80 cents, depending on how the calculations are done, for every dollar a white man doing the same work is paid. The Washington Post reported that location matters when it comes to closing the gender pay gap. None of the projections are encouraging, with Florida, California, and Maryland the only three states on track to achieve gender pay parity in the next 25 years, but some states are progressing far more slowly than others. Six states will not close the wage gap until after 2100, according to this model, and one outlier—Wyoming—is expected to trail the state in 49th place (Louisiana) by more than half a century, with equal pay not in place there until 2159!
Kids Count reports on children’s status in every state, collecting data on a group of indicators that encompasses economic well-being, health, education, and family/community. This year’s report concludes that every state has bright spots as well as room for improvement—but cautions that some of the states with the weakest performances are also states where the child population is growing most quickly.
Not unexpectedly, food insecurity data also reveal significant differences among states. For example, FRAC reported that the average hunger rate over the three-year period 2016 – 2018 was 7.8 percent in New Hampshire and 15.9 percent in Mississippi.
In addition to gender, marital status, race, ethnicity, and state, a U.S. resident’s risk of hunger also depends on local community. Bread for the World Institute’s 2019 Hunger Report, Back to Basics: How to End Hunger by 2030, identifies finding solutions to fragility as a key piece of the puzzle of ending hunger. In the U.S. context, fragility has to do with places where poverty and hunger rates are high, and residents have been pushed to the margins of society. When the economy improves in most of the United States, the situation in fragile areas often remains unchanged.
Persistent poverty counties (largely rural, but not always), have, by definition, reported poverty rates of at least 20 percent for the past 30 years. It is alarming that the country has 558 rural persistent child poverty counties. Areas of concentrated poverty (largely urban but again, not always) often have poverty rates of 30 percent, 40 percent, or even higher. There are far more areas of concentrated poverty now than there were just a few years ago.
People of color with incomes below the poverty line are far more likely to live in areas of concentrated poverty than whites who also live below the poverty line. For a detailed look at fragility in the U.S. context, please see the 2017 Hunger Report, Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities.
Michele Learner is associate editor with Bread for the World Institute.
I am a homebody. I’ll admit it: I love to be at home. My home is a sacred, safe space for me to relax, recharge, and just enjoy being. That’s why it is so hard for me, but so important, to even imagine being forced to leave my home. But that is the situation of more than 70 million people in our world right now. 70.8 million people have had to leave their homes because of armed conflict, other conditions of insecurity such as widespread violence by organized gangs, prolonged drought or intense storms that destroyed crops—fleeing in order to survive.
I can’t help but wonder—If I had to leave my home and my city, what would I eat? How would I find a bathroom? Where would I get money to buy the things I need? It would be a stretch to find ways to meet my basic physical needs, let alone my need to feel safe and relaxed in my own home. People who are displaced from their homes must often rely entirely on humanitarian assistance for food, water, and shelter, and the number of people who are displaced just continues to grow. It’s at its highest level since World War II.
Thankfully, the U.N. and its relief agencies are there to help, along with other organizations and individuals who jump in to help where they see a need. The World Food Program (WFP) is equipped and ready to respond to the needs of displaced populations; in 2018, WFP provided food assistance to almost 87 million people, both refugees and displaced people. It was particularly active in the areas with the greatest humanitarian needs, which included Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and Sahelian countries such as Niger and Chad.
The U.S. government program Food for Peace works closely with partners to respond in emergencies where people are displaced from their homes. In 2018, Food for Peace reached more than 76 million people in 59 countries.
There are also dedicated individuals, like chef José Andrés of World Central Kitchen, who rush in after disasters to serve meals. Andrés and his team have served more than 100,000 meals in the Bahamas since Hurricane Dorian caused severe damage last month.
We should all give God thanks for helpers like these, who are there to respond to people’s most basic and urgent needs during times of crisis. But as we’ve seen time and again, crises of the complexity and sheer size of many recent ones don’t end quickly and don’t have simple solutions. Many take years to resolve, followed by additional years of rebuilding. One U.N. agency estimate put the average length of time a refugee is displaced at 26 years. The term “protracted emergency” should be an oxymoron, but it’s the day-to-day reality of millions of people.
Rather than relying on the goodwill of helpers for decades, people who are displaced need better options, or what are called durable solutions. Traditionally, there have been three—returning home, permanently joining their host communities, or resettling in a third country. But it has become more difficult to access any of these as more and more emergencies arise. Growing numbers of people are in a legal limbo—unable to go home, unable to go anywhere else, and unable to provide for themselves and their families where they are. No one deserves to go through life like that or try to raise a family in such conditions.
It’s not in the interest of donors or helpers for refugees to be in such limbo either. “Donor fatigue” may or may not be a real condition, but one thing that seems clear is that donors will not continue to support the same programs, for the same groups of people, year after year after year. There must be a better way for refugees and displaced people to live a life of dignity and be able to meet their own needs, including for food and nutrition.
There are a couple of opportunities this year to explore this further. The focus of the 2019 Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium is “Pax Agricultura: Peace Through Agriculture.” Follow @breadinstitute on Twitter October 16-18, 2019, to see what we’re learning.
The Global Compact on Refugees, affirmed last year, is “a blueprint for a stronger, fairer response to refugee situations so refugees can thrive alongside their hosts.” It includes the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework and a program of action to help meet the compact’s objectives. In December, the United Nations will host the first Global Refugee Forum to follow up by bringing together U.N. member states to make commitments to advance the Global Compact and share learnings.
Jordan Teague is senior international policy advisor for Bread for the World Institute.
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These fact sheets provide a snapshot of hunger and poverty in the United States and in each state plus Washington, D.C.
In 2017, 11.8 percent of households in the U.S.—40 million people—were food-insecure, meaning that they were unsure at some point during the year about how they would provide for their next meal.