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Here in Bread for the World’s office in Washington, DC, our colleague in Information Systems has a sign on her desk: “Data powers everything we do!”
One priority of the anti-hunger community is to ensure that U.S. government policies that affect hunger, malnutrition, and food insecurity are “evidence-based,” or informed by data. These policies that impact millions of people at home and abroad are only as good as the information they are based on and the validity of the assumptions built into the process of collecting that information. If decisions are based on incomplete or inaccurate data, their results will reflect that.
Our work often involves looking at hunger and poverty issues through different “lenses.” A nutrition lens, a racial equity lens, a gender lens, and others—all can make the picture of what needs to be done to end hunger more complete and accurate.
Key information is often not available when it comes to poor and marginalized groups. If you’ve been part of the Bread community for a while, you may remember our "Missing Women" data visualization. It shows that nearly 80 percent of the data needed to ensure global gender equity simply doesn’t exist. This includes both information that is clearly relevant—such as statistics on malnutrition among women and how it may differ from malnutrition among men and children—as well as information whose connections with hunger may be less obvious. For example, robust data on the prevalence and severity of domestic violence is essential to reducing hunger, because domestic violence reduces victims’ agency and ability to provide for themselves and their families.
The critical importance of data is why proposed changes in data collection concern anti-hunger advocates. One of these is a proposed 2020 census question, “Is this person a U.S. citizen?” This is very likely to result in undercounting of new citizens, permanent residents, and undocumented people. Since these groups of people are at greater risk of hunger and poverty, it is absolutely necessary to anti-hunger efforts to collect accurate data on how many there are, how many are children and seniors, where they live, and other basic demographic facts.
Another area where data is essential to reducing vulnerability to hunger is the workplace, particularly when it comes to employment opportunities and pay equity. Anti-hunger advocates are concerned by the administration’s announcement that it would not implement a requirement, scheduled to go into effect this year, that businesses provide more information on pay differentials based on race and gender. That decision is being challenged in court.
This month, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization will release the 2018 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, which covers the year 2017. Last year’s edition reported that the number of hungry people rose from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016. A notable contributing factor was the increase in hunger in conflict situations, particularly those that coincided with droughts or floods. Childhood stunting, a type of chronic malnutrition that causes irreversible damage, has fallen in the past decade, from 29.5 percent of children under age 5 in 2005 to 22.9 percent in 2016. In 2016, the total number of stunted children younger than 5 was 155 million.
Further data on global hunger is available in the U.N. 2018 Sustainable Development Goals progress report, published this past July. In addition, the World Bank will release its update on global poverty in October.
Other pieces in this issue of Institute Insights provide more information on important data categories. These include the upcoming release of 2017 data on food insecurity and poverty in the United States, and the necessity of quantifying gender and racial pay gaps if the United States is to end hunger. Pieces in this issue also amplify the discussion in our 2018 Hunger Report, The Jobs Challenge, of the importance of dignity in work, and illustrate “data in real life.” Community health volunteers in Nepal are using increasingly accurate and specific information, such as the percentage of babies and toddlers who are consuming sufficient nutritious food, to tailor education and services to the needs of the families they serve.
Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.
By Todd Post
The Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released data on the 2017 food security status of U.S. households. The annual food security report provides detailed information on the number of people in our country who worry about running out of money for food or are forced to cut back on meals because they cannot afford the groceries they need.
The United States is now in one of the longest periods with low unemployment rates in decades. In 2017, the percentage of Americans who were food insecure decreased from 12.3 percent (41.2 million people) to 11.8 percent—a statistically significant decline, yet one that still left more than 40 million food insecure people, in 15 million U.S. households. Seven years into the recovery, the country has yet to reach the 2007 pre-recession food insecurity rate of 11.1 percent. “Even” 11.1 percent is far too high for a wealthy country.
Our efforts to make progress against hunger and poverty are hobbled by stagnant wages and a shortage of middle-income jobs. Nearly one in three U.S. workers is paid less than $12 an hour, which is just enough to bring a family of four to the federal poverty line, set at $25,100 for 2018. While wages across the U.S. workforce have begun a slow rise, the percentage increase is comparable to the inflation rate.
We frequently hear elected officials say, “The best anti-poverty program is a job.” A job can serve as the best anti-poverty program—but only if it pays enough to cover essential living costs. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour bears no real relationship to what families need to make ends meet. The National Low-Income Housing Coalition reports that a full-time worker earning the minimum wage could afford to rent a small one-bedroom apartment in only 22 counties in the entire country.
Government programs are indispensable—without them, U.S. hunger and poverty rates would be significantly higher. SNAP, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and other programs keep millions of working families above the poverty line. But an income at the poverty level can’t meet all a family’s basic needs. People would much rather find a job that pays a decent wage than apply for federal assistance just to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.
Congress has not raised the minimum wage since 2009—the longest period without an increase since the minimum wage was established by the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA does not specify when or how often the minimum wage must be increased. In the past, unions had greater bargaining power, and union leaders were in frequent contact with members of Congress about the need to raise the minimum wage. More recently, calls for a higher minimum wage have carried less weight, particularly as Congress has become increasingly polarized along partisan lines.
Conventional wisdom holds that wage stagnation is caused by a lack of skills. According to this narrative, workers aren’t earning more because they simply don’t have the skills necessary to keep up with technological changes and do the work that employers need them to do. The fatal flaw in this argument is that the incomes of all but a small percentage of families in the United States have been stagnant for a generation. The pay of most workers, regardless of education or skills, has not increased in real terms since 1980.
While there is no single cause of wage stagnation, a key factor has been government policies that enabled, and continue to enable, increasing concentration of income and wealth in the hands of a small percentage of the population. The striking income and wealth inequalities we see today did not appear without an enabling policy environment. Changes in tax policy that expanded tax breaks for companies and higher-income individuals have played a particularly important role.
The good news in this scenario is that since government policies played a significant role in shaping the current situation, changes in policies now and in the future can restore balanced wage growth and halt growing inequality.
Bread for the World Institute’s 2018 Hunger Report, The Jobs Challenge, offers an assortment of recommendations to reduce workers’ vulnerability to hunger through policies that shape the workplace. These range from raising the minimum wage to stepping up enforcement of the laws against wage theft—an enormous problem that disproportionately affects low-wage workers. We should not tolerate a situation where millions of people are humiliated by their inability to meet their basic needs and those of their families by working 40 or more hours a week.
Todd Post is senior researcher, writer, and editor with Bread for the World Institute.
By Marlysa D. Gamblin
In Bread for the World Institute’s 2018 Hunger Report, “The Jobs Challenge,” we discuss the importance of respecting the dignity of workers. Dignity has many components, both tangible and intangible. One of the most important is fair and equitable pay for all workers. But in the United States, wide disparities in pay based on gender are still the norm. Although the magnitude of pay disparities varies by race, all women confront the gender pay gap.
Pay disparities increase the likelihood that women will experience hunger. White women are now paid 80 cents for every dollar a white man is paid. Women of color face even deeper pay disparities—a major reason that they have higher rates of food insecurity than white women or men.
We can’t end hunger in the United States if we leave people behind. We must therefore put an end to inequitable pay, eliminate the risk of hunger and poverty based on gender, and protect the dignity of all workers.
Black Women’s Equal Pay Day was August 7. This date represents, on average, how far into the 2018 calendar year that, in addition to working the full 2017 calendar year, a Black woman had to work to earn the same amount of annual income that her white male counterpart earned in 2017 alone. In other words, if a white man was paid $50,000 annually in 2017, a Black woman would have to work an additional seven months (until August 7, 2018) to earn this same amount. This period of more than seven months is a time when Black women are essentially working for free.
Equal Pay Day for women as a group, regardless of race, was April 10, 2018. Asian American and Pacific Islander women are paid 87 cents on the dollar, white women 79 cents, Indigenous women 57 cents, and Latinas only 54 cents. On an annual basis, this translates into 11 months of free labor from Latinas.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), half of the gender pay gap since 1980 can be attributed to occupational segregation, the disproportionate representation of different demographic groups in different jobs. For example, NBER reports, in 2015 men were 53 percent of the labor force, less than 30 percent of the workforce in education, and more than 98 percent of the workforce in construction.
Occupational segregation would matter less if jobs were valued and compensated primarily according to relatively objective criteria such as the amount of training needed or the degree of responsibility. But the evidence shows that assumptions about gender and race play a significant role in decisions about pay. Jobs filled largely by men tend to be paid more, regardless of the skill and education required. As a group, women in low-wage jobs are more likely to have a two-year associate degree or other higher education than their male peers.
Understanding occupational segregation and its impact on pay, therefore, is key to finding potential solutions. According to the Duncan Segregation Index, a tool created by the Economic Policy Institute, the pay disparity between white men and African American women is highest—62 percent—among people with a high school education or less. It is still significant among those with an advanced degree, however, at 43 percent. Women in every occupation, whether cashiers, bus drivers, nurses, or veterinarians, are paid less than men in those jobs. Black women at every educational level, from high school to advanced degrees, are paid only a little under 60 cents for every dollar white men are paid.
The gender pay gap is longstanding and based in traditional assumptions about men’s and women’s roles in society and the economy. It cannot be solved overnight. Laws against pay discrimination, while essential, have not closed the gap. The Equal Pay Act was enacted in 1963. Education, while valuable for many reasons, does not close the gap. The evidence base tells us that changes in a range of structural, institutional, and interpersonal factors are needed.
There are many specific measures that, combined, can chip away at the problem, but the country must gather the political will to make a concerted effort to undo the effects of bias, discrimination, inaccurate assumptions, and other causes of gender and racial pay inequities. Ensuring that the dignity of every worker is upheld—and ending hunger—depend on it.
Marlysa D. Gamblin is domestic advisor for policy and programs, specific populations, with Bread for the World Institute.
By Jordan Teague
The largest global displacement crisis since World War II continues. Conflict, violence, or persecution have displaced 68.5 million people from their homes—not counting people displaced by climate change. Displaced people, whether they are still on the road fleeing their homes or already settled in another community or country, have the same rights and basic needs as every other human being. They deserve dignity just as every other person does.
As Bread for the World Institute noted in our 2018 Hunger Report, The Jobs Challenge: Working to End Hunger by 2030, major world religions emphasize that work is a major source of dignity in our lives. No matter where people live, work is a significant avenue to freeing ourselves from hunger and poverty. The global community’s most recent recognition of the importance of dignified work came when nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. SDG 8 includes the goal of full and productive employment and decent work for all.
Like access to better education and health care, access to better job opportunities is a universal human concern. People who have been forcibly displaced to other parts of their country or over an international border are no exception. Neighboring low-income countries host the vast majority of refugees—even though they have few resources to spare for people who are not their citizens. Many adult refugees are eager to work and contribute, but they face barriers to employment in their host countries.
A large percentage of the world’s refugees are babies and young children, along with their caregivers. Caregivers’ lack of access to appropriate and affordable child care stands in the way of their ability to find and keep work in their new communities. Others have illnesses or injuries that prevent them from accessing employment.
But these are not the only barriers to work and employment that refugees face in their host countries. In 1951, the United Nations adopted the Convention Related to the Status of Refugees, which clarifies the rights of refugees and the obligations of the 145 nations that are party to the Convention. These rights include the right to wage-earning employment. But only 75 of those countries, roughly half, have laws or official policies providing for refugees to exercise this right, and some countries bar refugees completely from work in the formal sector.
Some host countries allow refugees to work in theory and on paper, but present barriers in practice. Turkey, for example, hosts more refugees than any country, approximately 3 million. Turkey has a formal work permit system for refugees, but the conditions and costs attached to obtaining such a work permit mean that for many refugees, employment is still unattainable. Another barrier is the fact that refugees themselves are not allowed to apply for work permits. Employers must apply on behalf of individual refugees and pay the indirect costs of hiring and employment, such as taxes—and employers also have the burden to prove that no Turkish citizen could fulfill the job responsibilities as well as the refugee applicant.
Some countries, including Turkey, place restrictions on where refugees are allowed to live. This can limit their employment options just as in the United States. As we reported in The Jobs Challenge, residents of some parts of our country face barriers such as difficult geography (for example, remote rural communities in Appalachia) or limited access to transportation (such as many communities with concentrated poverty). Often, refugees also have difficulty finding decent work because they don’t speak any of the primary languages of their host country.
Barriers to work might matter less if people were displaced for only a short time. But the average length of time people spend as displaced persons or refugees is on the rise. Moreover, some donor countries and organizations face difficult budget environments and/or resistance among people at home to funding for international humanitarian and development assistance. For these reasons—and to protect the right to dignity and the right to work—the global community must come together not only to meet the basic needs of all people who are forcibly displaced, but also to ensure that these individuals have opportunities to work.
Jordan Teague is international policy analyst with Bread for the World Institute.
By Jordan Teague
The government of Nepal started the Female Community Health Volunteer (FCHV) program in 1988 – 30 years ago! This ongoing program works to improve the health of women and children, particularly in the country’s hard-to-reach rural mountainous areas. The FCHVs volunteer to work in their own communities, educating other women about healthy behaviors, promoting the use of health services, and connecting households with health centers or providers as necessary.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), along with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is one of the main supporters of the FCHV program through a program known as Suaahara II (“good nutrition” in Nepali). The U.S. nonprofit organization Helen Keller International leads its implementation. The women who volunteer their time as FCHVs are the main link between Suaahara II and households, particularly rural households, in Nepal. They do much of the program’s work to improve nutrition among women and children.
I was fortunate to travel to Nepal in May 2018, where I met two FCHVs, Shasi and Radha. Shasi and Radha live in Nepal’s Dang district, where Suaahara II trained them in community health strategies. They visit households with the goal of enabling families to improve their own health and nutrition. Shasi and Radha were trained to map the households in their community and keep records of which families include pregnant women and/or children younger than 2 years, all of whom are in the “1,000 days” critical window for human nutrition.
During their household visits, they also keep track of which families have adopted healthy nutrition habits. They have been trained to help families prevent malnutrition and to treat common illnesses, such as diarrhea, which can be part of the cycle of malnutrition.
Especially in remote rural areas, FCHVs are a key source of health services for families. Shasi and Radha, for example, bring supplies of iron and folic acid tablets when they visit the homes of pregnant women—essential nutrients to prevent anemia, neural tube defects, and other problems. They have been trained to identify malnutrition, and they refer mothers and children to the nearest health center for treatment as necessary.
Shasi and Radha also host occasional gatherings of groups of women and their children, where they provide education on healthy behaviors for nutrition. When I met them, they were working with a Suaahara II Community Nutrition Facilitator to host a food and cooking demonstration for a group of 11 women. At such demonstrations, Shasi and Radha remind the group of which foods are most nutritious and demonstrate how to prepare different foods. This time, they made a pumpkin dish. The FCHVs are working to increase the number of children ages 6 to 23 months who consume a “minimum acceptable diet,” meaning a diet that is diverse enough and meals that are served often enough to meet the needs of very young children. Currently, only 36 percent of Nepali children in this age group have a minimum acceptable diet. But malnutrition before the second birthday can cause irreversible damage to rapidly-growing bodies and minds.
As mentioned, the government of Nepal started this innovative program to promote community health in 1988, so it is “old” as such initiatives go. Investments such as Suaahara II, which USAID has aligned with Nepal’s national nutrition plan, help Nepal continue to improve women’s and children’s health and nutrition. This is just one example of how U.S. government investments in poverty-focused development assistance and humanitarian assistance are making a difference in people’s lives around the world. Better maternal and child nutrition equips families to build better lives for themselves.
As we work toward the global goals for 2030 that were adopted by the nations of the world in 2015, it is imperative that the United States continue to invest in helping countries and communities improve the lives of their people. Now is the time to act, not turn back.
Jordan Teague is international policy analyst with Bread for the World Institute.
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