2019 Hunger Report



2019 Hunger Report


A national effort to end hunger could bring our country together and this goal has in fact, already brought the world together. Ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030 is one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015 by the governments of 193 countries, including the United States, with support from their civil society and business sectors.

And every year, more than 100 million people from all over the world join the middle class. This is important because this allows them to afford more and better food.

2030 sounds audacious. But decades of victory over hunger, despite recent setbacks, reveal a different picture. It is rapid global progress, not any one country’s achievement, which persuades us that ending hunger and malnutrition is possible sooner rather than later.

Global progress against hunger means the entire world—its people, governments, and private businesses—needs to play a pivotal role in the process. Specifically, progress on nutrition, livelihoods, gender, fragility, and climate change is crucial to ensure that the hundreds of millions of people still living with hunger have a real chance at a better life.

These five challenges require more attention to achieve a world without hunger:

Nutrition: Link Nutritious Food with Health
The foods we consume are among the most basic ingredients of human development—as essential as clean air and safe drinking water. All people should have access to food that provides sufficient calories and nutrients to promote good health.

Livelihoods: Fair Opportunities to Earn a Living
The only way to end hunger with dignity is to enable people to earn the income they need to provide enough healthy food for themselves and their children.

Gender: Empower Women and Girls
Women in every society are treated as less valuable and/or less capable. Women and girls are the largest group of marginalized people. Yet food security is dependent on them.

Fragility: Cultivate Peace and Justice
When marginalized groups or people living in extreme poverty turn to violence, hunger is very often an underlying factor. Hunger is both a cause and an effect of the violence associated with fragile environments.

Climate Change: Resilience for an Unpredictable Future
Populations that are most affected by the impact of climate change are those most likely to be hungry. Climate change is the biggest barrier to ending hunger once and for all.

Each of us is part of the solution. In the United States, problems are solved when people share their experiences and perspectives, and advocate for what they believe in.

The solutions must come principally from us—everyday people living in communities. Good policies and strong leadership can ensure solutions leave no one behind. Democracy is the cornerstone of our government. It gives us a voice in determining our country’s future. But, of course, no one will hear our voice if we don’t speak up.

Bread for the World has seen the power of advocacy and citizen engagement time and time again. Some of our efforts have transcended bitter partisanship and overcome powerful political interests. Whether liberal or conservative, members of Congress pay attention to voters back home and often take action on hunger issues when asked by their constituents.

Since our founding in 1974, Bread has been a strong voice in solidarity with those affected by hunger and marginalized by society in the United States and abroad. More importantly, we bring the realities of hunger to the attention of those who are elected to represent our priorities for U.S. policy. We also bring hunger into elections by urging candidates to support policies that will address inequities around the world and lead to the end of hunger and poverty.

When even a few people urge candidates and members of Congress to better understand the reasons for hunger and help do something, they often will.

Mobilizing stakeholders such as government, civil society, and the private sector is crucial to ending hunger. Each plays a distinct but interconnected role. Civil society organizations work in marginalized and vulnerable communities. They have a role to play in calling for better policies and ensuring accountability. Government policy can effect long-term change and business can offer creative solutions to problems.

Government: Creating the Political Will for Change

Ending hunger requires political will. Public policy can create opportunities for people to free themselves from poverty and realize their full potential. Policies have been a key driver of progress in countries that have succeeded in reducing hunger and poverty.

In the United States, improved policies lowered the poverty rates among elderly people. In the 1950s, half of all U.S. seniors lived in poverty—the highest poverty rate of all demographic groups. Today, seniors have the lowest poverty and hunger rates. Improvements in Social Security and the establishment of Medicare were responsible for the senior poverty rate reductions.

The countries that have made rapid progress against hunger and have accounted for the progress globally have several things in common: commitment at the highest levels to inclusive economic development, sound policies, and investments in agriculture and human capital (education and health).

From 1990 to 2015, China accounted for two-thirds of all the progress made against hunger in the world.1 Within a generation, China went from having food deficits to producing surpluses. The hunger rate during this period was cut from 1 in 4 to 1 in 10. In Vietnam in the early 1990s, two-thirds of the population was still living in extreme poverty, and hunger was rampant.2 Today, Vietnam is a much different place. Peace and stability, coupled with a transformed economy, have created the foundation for dramatic progress against extreme poverty and hunger. The hunger rate is plunging and projected to be as low as 2 percent within a decade.3

Brazil’s Fome Zero, or Zero Hunger program, a nationwide strategy for ending hunger and improving nutrition, was launched in 2003 with the goal that all people would be able to access enough of the right kinds of food 4 to meet basic nutritional needs and support health. Fome Zero took a comprehensive approach, which included social protection and safety nets, education, food production, health services, drinking water, and sanitation. Hunger rates fell from just over 11 percent in 2000-2002 to less than 5 percent in just six years and to less than 2.5 percent by 2016.5 Stunting among Brazilian children younger than 5—an indication that they were chronically undernourished in early childhood—was cut in half,6 from 14 percent to 7 percent, between 1996 and 2007.

Ghana reduced hunger from 47 percent in 19907 to 6.1 percent in 2015-17.8 As with the previous examples, investments in agriculture, sound policies, and social protection programs to reach vulnerable communities, especially women, were all needed to make this progress possible.

Countries that have the political will to end hunger, but few resources, can benefit from support from the international community. U.S. policies and programs have contributed to progress against hunger in many countries. India and China, for example, worked with experts in agricultural science who were primarily from the United States. Foreign aid has brought thousands of scientists from Asia, Africa, and Latin America to the United States to study agriculture and natural resources management. U.S. expertise in agricultural science and technology has its roots in 19th-century efforts to establish a system of land-grant universities and colleges in every state.

U.S. development assistance also includes efforts to reduce hunger. Food for Peace, an emergency food aid program, has provided meals to more than 3 billion people since its inception in 1954.9 More recently, Feed the Future has targeted assistance to smallholder farmers in some of the poorest countries. It was established a decade ago in response to a devastating spike in the prices of staple foods that caused malnutrition among tens of millions of people.

Policies and programs can also cause harm and make it much more difficult to end hunger. Racism, including structural racism, has had a particularly significant impact on inequity in the United States. It has created and sustained higher levels of hunger among people of color—keeping us from reaching our goal of ending hunger. Laws and structures that perpetuate inequity must be repealed or dismantled.

Civil Society: On the Ground Advocates

In this report, civil society refers to not-for-profit organizations that work directly with people affected by hunger and poverty. Civil society groups come in many shapes and sizes, from shoestring operations to foundations sustained by large endowments. They include organizations of different political leanings, groups motivated by secular or faith-based values, clusters of organizations under one umbrella, and individuals not affiliated with groups but working toward the same goals.

Governments and the private sector need partners in civil society to end hunger. Academic researchers are an important part of civil society—because without their research, we could miss the connections among issues that are vital to understanding and solving them. For example, research identified education for women and girls as the largest single factor behind the significant progress against child malnutrition in recent decades. The quantitative evidence showed that access to education for women was far more important in reducing malnutrition than having access to additional food. While advocates value women’s education as a human right in itself, we could not have guessed how much impact it would prove to have on childhood malnutrition.

It is an open question whether we would have the SDGs without civil societies pushing their respective governments to commit to them. Nobody does more than civil society to point out the repugnance of hunger in a world with enough for all. Civil society is generally much quicker than government to call the private sector out for violations of public trust.

Local civil society groups support communities in difficult and complex environments. Aid workers and advocates have the insight and practical information needed to navigate the chaos of armed conflict or a cholera epidemic because in many cases they themselves grew up in the affected community. For example, as conflict among armed Somali factions continued for years, community women’s groups were often the only ones able to get food to people trapped by the fighting.

Local people are experts on what works best in their own communities. They have a pulse on how programs supported by international donors are working and which issues are likely to be controversial.

Private Sector: Ending Hunger Is Good Business

Ending hunger is good for business, and many business leaders already recognize this. They can contribute by explaining this to their customers, suppliers, and colleagues, and through leading by example.

Paul Pohlman, former CEO of Unilever and a member of the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, encourages peer companies to learn from Unilever’s experience. “At Unilever,” he explains, “we have helped hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers improve agricultural practices, enabling them to double or even triple their yields. Smallholder farmers improve their livelihoods; suppliers gain increased security of supply with improved quality; and we reduce volatility and uncertainty with a more secure and sustainable supply chain.”10

The Business and Sustainable Development Commission was launched in early 2016, soon after the SDGs were adopted. Led by the chief executives of some of the world’s largest companies, the commission defines its mission as making the case “for why business leaders should seize upon sustainable development as the greatest opportunity of a lifetime.”11 A study sponsored by the commission showed that using sustainable business models generates a seven-fold return on food and agriculture sector investments.12

For example, in low-income countries, up to 40 percent of the food produced spoils after harvest due to a lack of safe storage. Much of this loss could be prevented with small metal storage facilities, which a large business can purchase at economies of scale and sell to farmers who need them at a price they can afford that also generates a small profit for the business.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization,13 agricultural production must increase by 70 percent by 2050 to keep pace with global population growth. The best opportunities for scaling up production are in developing countries, including those in sub-Saharan Africa. So far, there has been very little international private investment in agricultural productivity in developing countries. Currently, the largest share of on-farm investment comes from smallholders themselves, who have few resources to spare for it.14

The SDGs would get a boost if Pohlman and likeminded business leaders can persuade peers to join them, using their argument that sustainability benefits everyone.

Public policies can both prevent abuses by the private sector and create opportunities for private sector contributions. For example, in the United States, the Enrichment Act of 1942 required all grain products to be fortified with thiamin, riboflavin, and iron. The private sector then stepped up, and fortification contributed significantly to fighting micronutrient deficiency in the U.S. The private sector has long been a partner in other initiatives aimed at preventing and treating malnutrition. Ready-to-use therapeutic food, such as Plumpy’Nut®, developed by the French company Nutriset in 1996, revolutionized the treatment of severely malnourished children. It has saved countless lives and continues to save lives today.

The private sector can contribute to ending hunger by paying workers a living wage. When profits are rising while wages are not, it is appropriate to ask whether businesses are reneging on their responsibilities as members of society and partners in the social contract. The social contract is truly broken if workers do not get a fair deal.

Global Goals: A Roadmap to End Hunger

Every year, governments that signed onto the SDGs meet to assess progress. The meetings also draw the world’s largest for-profit businesses and many not-for-profit organizations. They come to exchange experiences and ideas on how to achieve the goals, to make it clear that they want to work with governments and intend to hold them accountable.

The SDGs serve as our impetus for collective action and offer a clear definition for ending hunger. Goal 2: Zero Hunger calls for ensuring “access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food all year round.” 1 The word “nutritious” is important because hunger is more than a lack of calories. While hundreds of millions of people do not consistently get enough calories, the number of people who are malnourished because they lack essential vitamins and minerals, a condition sometimes described as “hidden hunger,” is estimated at 2 billion.2

As a package, the SDGs make it clear that ending hunger depends on solving other problems such as poor health, gender inequity, and climate change. Poor health affects people’s ability to earn a decent living and support their families. Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being seeks to ensure better health—for example, by preventing or curing diseases. Goal 5: Gender Equity includes improving the social and legal environments that sustain pervasive discrimination and violence based on gender. Climate change affects agricultural production, threatening farmers’ ability to supply food for everyone, so there is Goal 13: Climate Action. Sustainable progress—progress that is intended to be, and is capable of being, enduring—depends on addressing all of the issues in an interconnected manner.

The level of ambition in the SDGs is the legacy of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs, which ended in 2015, focused on developing countries. Targets were ambitious and included cutting the hunger and extreme poverty rates in half. The world met the goal of halving poverty but fell just short of the hunger target. Although it is impossible to say exactly how much of the progress was due to the MDGs, it is clear that they were a catalyst for cooperation to tackle some of the most complex human problems. The SDGs, which end in 2030, are playing the same role today.

Each chapter in the 2019 Hunger Report, Back to Basics, includes stories that illuminate the main message of this report: everyone from government leaders to millennials has a role to play in ending hunger.

Throughout this report stories of individuals and groups daring to make a difference are shared. Young evangelicals. A rape survivor in Nigeria. Low-income people in Asheville, North Carolina. Every individual voice is important and, collectively, unstoppable.

As cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, who traveled all over the world studying human societies, put it: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

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Endnotes: Introduction

  1. World Food Program (June 30, 2016), “10 Facts About Nutrition in China.”
  2. Linh Hoang Vu (April 7, 2015), “How We Measure Poverty in Vietnam,” The World Bank.
  3. Brigit Meade and Karen Thome (June 2017), International Food Security Assessment, 2017-2027, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
  4. FAO, The Fome Zero (Zero Hunger Program).
  5. FAO, The State of Food Security in the World 2015, p. 29.
  6. ( … )
  7. View all report endnotes  read more


Chapter 1: Livelihoods
Fair Opportunities to Earn a Living

Livelihoods Around the World

Engaging young people and giving them reason to believe that a more prosperous world is possible depends on them earning a living. Making a decent income is key to ending hunger and poverty and promoting dignity.

In developing countries, hunger and extreme poverty are generally concentrated in rural areas, and most rural areas are home to large numbers of adolescents and young adults who need jobs. Lack of livelihoods often leads to migration to urban areas or across borders.

Not only is increasing agricultural productivity central to producing more food and more nutritious food, but it has also proven to be the fastest way of reducing poverty and increasing economic growth, setting in motion more opportunities for workers in other sectors.

The world has made dramatic progress against hunger in recent decades—a fact that is not always recognized. Sustained economic growth has proven vital. But finishing the job of ending chronic hunger and malnutrition will require more than sustaining economic growth and continuing policies and initiatives that have been successful thus far—vital as both these factors are. It means, in the words of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), leaving no one behind.

People are left behind for a variety of reasons, but perhaps the primary reason is that what they earn from their work cannot meet their basic needs and those of their children. They don’t have sustainable livelihoods.

People living with physical or mental disabilities are a good example of a sizeable group with few options to make a living. In some countries, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is as high as 80 to 90 percent,2 explaining why people with disabilities have been referred to as the poorest of the poor. Social protection systems in low- and middle-income countries are often not extensive and cover far fewer people. The International Labor Organization (ILO) reports that around the world, only about one disabled person in four receives a disability benefit.

Excluding people with disabilities from education and the labor market, under the assumption that they cannot contribute, is costly in both human terms and financial terms; the ILO estimates this cost at between 3 percent and 7 percent of GDP.

Most people around the world who endure chronic hunger are smallholder farmers and landless agricultural workers who live mainly in countries with fewer resources. They grow food for survival on small plots of land and earn modest incomes by selling in local markets. They eat mostly staple crops, such as rice, corn, and cassava, which means that their diets often lack essential nutrients. This is one reason that in most countries, there is a noticeable gap between rural and urban areas when it comes to childhood stunting; stunting rates are usually 10 percent to 20 percent higher in rural areas.

South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have the highest rates of hunger. Farming in both regions is done largely without the benefit of modern equipment or inputs. Women make up a sizeable share of the agricultural workforce, producing most of the food crops their communities consume. Men often migrate in search of paid work in urban areas. In the poorest households, children, especially girls, are frequently kept out of school to help support the family.

Countries succeed in reducing poverty by diversifying their economies. An initial focus on agricultural development produces the most rapid progress: growth in agriculture has been shown to be two to four times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in other sectors. This explains why historically industrialized countries began by modernizing their agricultural sector. Doing so enables workers to move out of low-productivity agriculture as new opportunities open in manufacturing and services. In the United States, for example, more than half the labor force was employed in agriculture in the late 19th century, but less than 2 percent work as farmers today.

The Green Revolution of the 1960s brought a significant improvement in agricultural productivity that ended famines in China and India and dramatically increased crop yields and made more food available at lower cost there and in other countries in Asia and Latin America. The U.S. government and U.S. philanthropies such as the Rockefeller Foundation were among the funders of the agricultural research that produced the Green Revolution, helping save millions of lives and enabling countries to feed millions of additional people.

Now, when African countries are among those hit hardest by malnutrition and climate change, the need for investments in agriculture is more critical than ever. Climate resilience and healthy diets are essential to both current and future food systems, so the Green Revolution’s emphasis on productivity must be combined with techniques that promote nutrition and sustainable forms of productivity growth. Most smallholder farmers in Africa continue to work with less productive equipment and methods, such as plowing without the help of oxen or machinery. All countries must now transition to a low-carbon economy, so low-carbon strategies to improve agricultural productivity are critically important.

As mentioned earlier, today’s global youth population is enormous and continues to grow rapidly. Projections indicate that by 2050, Africa will have twice as many young people as today. The need for jobs is already acute: between 10 million and 12 million Africans reach working age every year, and countries are struggling to create jobs for even a portion of them.

Improving agricultural productivity and enabling young people to earn income are the key to reducing hunger and spurring economic growth. So it makes sense to focus on employing young people in more productive agricultural ventures. Many younger people have moved to urban areas or have left to seek work abroad. But the cities do not offer many opportunities for people with limited education and skills. In low-income countries, as a group, only 40 percent  of those of secondary-school age actually enroll in secondary school. A country that wants to realize the potential of its large numbers of youth must make long-term investments in human capital. Educated workers will drive changes in the structure of the economy.

Nutrition must also be a top priority in these human capital investments. As we explain elsewhere in this report, far too many children and adults alive today are affected by stunting–a condition caused by malnutrition in earliest childhood (before age 2). It causes lifelong health problems and limits people’s educational attainment and even their lifetime earnings. Put simply, stunted children do not achieve their full potential, and that affects entire countries. As former World Bank President Jim Yong Kim once warned, “You cannot walk into the future with 20, 30, 40 percent stunting rates and expect to succeed.”

World leaders are at a critical juncture, according to a recent report by the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, Youth for Growth: Transforming Economies through Agriculture. “With proactive measures to meet food security and employment needs, a booming youth population has the potential to transform entire regions, making them more prosperous, stable, and secure. If they can be properly equipped with the requisite skills and engaged in productive employment, this growing cohort of young people can be a key asset for social and economic transformation. However, if not managed properly, this rising youth population could be a major contributor to social disruption, political instability, and conflict.”10 Read more from Chapter 1: Livelihoods.

Livelihoods in the United States


Chapter 2: Nutrition
Link Nutritious Food with Health

Stunting, Wasting, and Global Health

Maternal and child nutrition is a critical factor in healthy human development. Nutrition is a lifelong necessity for the health and well-being of individuals, their communities, and ultimately their countries. The right nutrients at the very beginning are especially important, and national governments and international development agencies now recognize this as a top concern.

The necessary investments in nutrition amount to a small fraction of the cost of the lifelong consequences of early childhood malnutrition, which include poor health, difficulty learning, and lower productivity. These and other problems can be prevented with specific, cost-effective nutrition actions and improvements in agriculture that enable all households to have access to nutritious diets.

The costs of malnutrition are staggering. Everyone in society loses when this condition—the prevention and treatment of which are well understood—is allowed to persist. Because the costs include lower labor productivity and additional healthcare expenses, countries with high burdens of malnutrition sacrifice GDP growth. But no one pays more dearly than malnourished mothers and their children—too often with their lives. Malnutrition is associated with nearly half of all preventable child deaths. Women with anemia, a form of malnutrition, are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth.

It is not possible to treat hunger and malnutrition as separate problems. They are inextricably linked. The estimated 2 billion people with “hidden hunger” suffer from nutritional deficiencies because their limited diets don’t have a wide enough variety of nutrient-dense foods. When meals consist largely of a staple crop such as rice or maize, people are simply not getting the vitamins and minerals needed for good health. When researchers sought to identify the causes of the total global burden of disease, they found that six of the top nine risk factors are associated with poor-quality diets.

Undernutrition linked with hunger can come in multiple forms, including short-term acute undernutrition, also called wasting, and longer-term chronic undernutrition, known as stunting if it occurs in early childhood. Stunting and wasting have several common risk factors, but aid workers have traditionally viewed them as occurring under different circumstances.

Wasting has been siloed as a humanitarian issue that is primarily a problem during conflict or emergencies. But, in fact, the majority of children suffering from wasting do not live in such environments, and many countries that have been at peace and free of significant natural disasters have nonetheless recorded high rates of childhood wasting, year after year.

Stunting and wasting are both devastating, with significant impacts on children’s health and cognitive development, hindering their educational achievement, their economic productivity, and their odds of freeing themselves from poverty. Together, stunting and wasting are implicated in at least 2 million deaths. Read more from Chapter 2: Nutrition.

In the United States, Nutrition Makes an Enormous Difference

The number of people in the U.S. who are food insecure—whose access to adequate food is limited by lack of money—has exceeded 40 million for the entire past decade.
USDA Economic Research Service

Federal nutrition programs help protect the health of tens of millions of children and adults every year. This is because hunger is a health issue in two ways: hunger and food insecurity lead to poor health, and poor health increases the risk of hunger and food insecurity. Through an array of nutrition programs and a vast network of charitable organizations offering food assistance, healthcare providers have resources to support patients whose conditions are exacerbated by lack of access to healthy foods.

While this is far too large a number, it is a significant improvement over the number at the turn of the 21st century. In 2000, the global stunting rate was 32.6 percent, or 198 million children. In 2017, the global stunting rate had declined to 21.9 percent —or just less than one in four children.

In 1967, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy toured the Mississippi Delta, one of the most neglected regions of the country. He was asked to visit by activist Marianne Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, who told him during a Senate hearing, “If you really want to understand hunger in America, you need to leave D.C. and come with me to Mississippi.”32

The hunger Kennedy encountered disturbed him deeply. He wept as he cradled an undernourished child in his arms, and the child’s lifeless eyes made him ashamed to witness such hardship in his own country, the wealthiest country in the world.33

Since then, the extreme hunger and malnutrition Kennedy witnessed has been eliminated in the United States, including in the Delta and other regions with deep poverty. The credit largely goes to the federal nutrition programs that were established starting in the 1960s and continue to evolve today. The programs serve as our population’s safety net against hunger and malnutrition.

They help ease the stress of having to choose between health care and food, or between paying the rent and shopping for groceries. These programs have been operating for decades, and longitudinal research has shown that their long-term impacts include a lower risk of poverty, improved health and education, better jobs, and higher lifetime earnings.34

Nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), in combination with other economic security programs, contribute to moving tens of millions of people over the poverty line every year. They also boost the incomes of tens of millions of additional people, bringing them closer to getting out of poverty. “In 2017… about 81 million people had incomes below the poverty line,” explains Danilo Trisi of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Counting [government] benefits and taxes lowers the number by 36 million (or 44 percent).”35

In a wealthy country, with a GDP of more than $19 trillion in 2017,36 the fact that 81 million people had incomes below the poverty line is shocking, particularly because the poverty line is not an indication of what is actually costs to meet one’s basic needs. For 2019, it is about $25,000 for a family of four. The stark inequalities of our economy are tempered by federal nutrition programs and other programs such as Medicaid. But these programs do not reach everyone who is eligible—and in 2017, 45 million people participated in federal programs but still lived below the poverty line.

The number of people in the United States who are food insecure—whose access to adequate food is limited by lack of money—has exceeded 40 million for the entire past decade.37 Poverty puts people at higher risk of obesity as well as hunger, which may seem paradoxical unless one understands that the conditions that are common in food insecure ouseholds—episodic food shortages, reliance on high energy-dense foods to stretch food dollars, stress, and depression—are all also risk factors for weight gain.

SNAP is the first line of defense against food insecurity, with nearly 20 million households receiving benefits in an average month. Half of the beneficiaries are children.38 The average allotment is only about $1.40 per person per meal.39 However, few households can make the monthly benefit actually last the entire month.40

“I watered down the apple juice. I watered down my daughter’s formula. We scraped the seeds out of a Halloween jack-o’-lantern so that we could dry them to eat,” explained Renee Musser in an interview for an earlier edition of the Hunger Report.41

People often turn to other sources of food assistance when SNAP benefits run out. There is a vast infrastructure of emergency food providers in communities across the country operating mostly with private resources. Feeding America, the umbrella organization of the nation’s largest food banks, estimates that its network provides 4.3 billion meals each year.42

The importance of the charitable food system goes well beyond the food it provides. In a typical month, 2 million volunteers around the nation dedicate more than 8.4 million hours of service.43 These are the faces of the anti-hunger infrastructure in their communities, while government programs are virtually invisible. SNAP benefits are accessed with the swipe of a debit card; the transaction looks the same as any other involving a debit or credit card. Without the visibility of the charitable volunteers, the rest of the U.S. population could more easily underestimate the degree of food insecurity in their communities. Read more from Chapter 2: Nutrition.

Endnotes for Chapter 2: Nutrition

  1. Jim Yong Kim (December 6, 2017), 27th Annual Martin J. Foreman Memorial Lecture, delivered at the International Food Policy Research Institute.
  2. Mark Tran (June 5, 2013), “Malnutrition identified as root cause of 3.1 million deaths among children,” The Guardian.
  3. Huizhong Wu (March 20, 2018), “Anemia doubles risk of deaths for pregnant women, study finds,” CNN.
  4. Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition (2017), Healthy diets for all: A key to meeting the SDGs.
  5. ( … )
  6. View all report endnotes  read more


Chapter 3: Gender
Empower Women and Girls

Leave No Woman Behind

Continued discrimination against women and girls would make it impossible to end hunger and poverty. Women farmers produce much of the food consumed in low-income countries, but gender discrimination lowers their productivity. Women are expected to complete most household chores, which are not only unpaid, but more difficult and time-consuming in low-income households without amenities such as running water and electricity. Increased investments in education would make it possible for more girls to realize their full potential and end cycles of intergenerational poverty.

A key factor in ending hunger is ending pervasive gender inequities. In 2013, Bread for the World Institute’s 2013 Hunger Report, Within Reach, featured Gilma, a 5-year-old girl living in the Dry Corridor region of Guatemala—an area that suffers frequent droughts due to climate change. During a severe drought in 2012, U.S. food aid provided a buffer between families and hunger, but the aid delivered to Gilma’s family was not enough for them all.

In many societies, women and girls are expected to eat last, eat less, and in times of scarcity not eat at all. Gilma is the only girl among the five children in her family. To put it bluntly, the boys got to eat while she starved. By the time aid workers with Save the Children—the organization distributing the food aid—learned of her situation, Gilma had already reached a deadly stage of hunger: severe acute malnutrition. Gilma nearly died. Not because she is a poor child in a region where food is often scarce, but because she is a girl.

In more than half the countries in the world, women do not have land ownership rights equal to those of men. In these countries, a widow or daughter usually cannot inherit land upon the death of her husband or father. Countries that have reformed their laws to grant land-tenure rights to women have found that significant improvements in health, nutrition, and education follow for both women and their children. In Nepal, children are 33 percent less likely to be severely underweight in households where women own land.

Inequities based on gender also include less access to other resources such as seeds, fertilizer, and credit. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that if all women smallholder farmers had equal access to productive resources, they could produce 20 to 30 percent more food, and between 100 million and 150 million fewer people would be hungry.

Education is one of the most powerful drivers of progress against hunger, and the education of girls has paid off in all regions of the world. Improvements in education reduce child hunger. In an analysis of 63 developing countries, improvements in women’s education was credited for 44 percent of the reduction in child hunger over 25 years—more than the 26 percent decrease due to increases in food availability. Each additional year of primary school boosts women’s wages in adulthood by 10 to 20 percent, and each additional year of secondary school by 15 to 25 percent.

Men also increase their earning potential with more education. But in the effort to improve the health and standard of living of children and families, women’s education is more important. Research from all parts of the world shows that women are more likely to spend their earnings on their children’s education, health care, and nutrition. Their priorities are different from men’s, which is one reason development programs that include cash assistance generally distribute money directly to mothers.

In low-income countries, despite progress, girls are still less likely to be in school than boys. This is particularly true of secondary school. In some situations, girls risk their lives to get an education. In October 2012, Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, now a world-renowned advocate for girls’ education usually known as simply “Malala,” was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman. Yousafzai’s family is from Pakistan’s SWAT Valley, a conflict-affected region that is a stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban. The Taliban are extremists who oppose women’s education. The gunman stormed the school bus Malala Yousafzai was on and threatened to kill every girl on board if no one would identify the one who was “making trouble.”

Malala recovered from the shooting. In 2014, when she was 17, she became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate for courageously standing up to extremists and championing the rights of girls. The same year, 276 school girls in northern Nigeria were abducted by members of the terror group Boko Haram, who also oppose educating girls in the belief that women should not think independently. These incidents occurred in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, respectively, which have the largest gender gaps in education and, not coincidentally, the highest hunger rates.

Gender inequities hurt everyone—men, women, and children. A 2015 report by the McKinsey Global Institute concluded that gender inequality costs as much as $28 trillion annually in lost global GDP. That amount is the size of the economies of the United States and China combined. A world where so many people are hungry and poor clearly cannot afford gender discrimination. Read more from Chapter 3: Gender.

In the United States, Gender Equity Requires More Political Power

Some of the most glaring instances of gender discrimination in the United States occur in the workplace. U.S. policymakers have been slow to respond, and when they do, their actions have generally fallen short of what is actually needed. Because women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners in most households, pay discrimination and other workplace biases threaten the food security of many families. Improving our economic system so that it works for everyone calls for a more equitable distribution of political power between men and women.

Women earn less than men for doing the same work. This is true in all 20 of the most common occupations for women.27 In female-dominated fields, such as nursing assistants and preschool and kindergarten teachers, men on average are paid a higher wage. Women make up approximately 90 percent of the U.S. home healthcare workforce, but men doing the same work doing the same work are paid more. Nationwide, counting workers in all occupations, women are paid 22 percent less than male peers. The gender wage gap is even larger for women of color.

The gender wage gap is not due to outside factors such as having less education or living in areas with a lower cost of living—the 22 percent is after controlling for race and ethnicity, education, and location.28 This means that women must work the equivalent of an additional 13 weeks each year to have the same income as a male counterpart.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was supposed to require equal pay for equal work, but loopholes in the law make it easy to avoid compliance. In 1963, when U.S. President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, women were paid 59 cents for every dollar that men were paid.29 There has been some progress, but if progress continues at its average rate from 1963 until today, the gender pay gap will close in 2059. Progress has been slower since 2000 than between 1963 and 1999, and if we use this more recent rate of progress to see when gender pay equity will arrive, we get … 2119.30 You read that right: at the present rate of progress, it will take a century to close the pay gap.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is a legislative proposal that would update the Equal Pay Act, closing the loopholes that permit employers to pay different wages to men and women who do the same job and have the same level of experience. This bill was first introduced in 1997. It has been reintroduced several times in the years since, but it has never cleared both houses of Congress.

Equal pay for women would have a profound impact on poverty in our country. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported in 2017 that equal pay would reduce the poverty rate by more than half, from from 8 to 4 percent.31 Women of color would benefit, especially, because the gender wage gap is substantially higher for communities of color. White women who work full-time, year-round have an earnings ratio with their white male counterparts of 77 percent. Black women who work full-time, year-round are paid 61 percent of what white men are paid, indigenous women 58 percent, and Latinas 53 percent.32

Education should be an equalizer of wage gaps. But obtaining more education will not close the gender wage gap. Women already earn high school diplomas, bachelor’s degrees, and graduate degrees at higher rates than men, and this has been true for some time now. In fact, girls are more likely to graduate from high school than boys in every state.33

Becoming a mother worsens the gender wage gap. Becoming a father, on the other hand, increases a man’s earning power. Mothers with full-time, year-round jobs are paid 71 cents for every dollar that fathers are paid.34 Mothers are the sole or primary breadwinner in more than 40 percent of all families, and a co-breadwinner in another 20 percent.35 All children who rely on their mother’s income to pay the bills are at greater risk of food insecurity. In 2017, 5.6 million children with working mothers lived below the poverty line. If the mothers had had equal pay, there would have been 3.1 million such children—not a small number, but a lot less than 5.6 million. Nearly 26 million children, in poor, near-poor, and higher-income families combined, would have benefited from equal pay.36

Single-parent households led by women have one of the highest poverty rates of all groups:

34 percent in 2017, compared to 16 percent for families headed by a single father.37 The poverty rate for single-parent families headed by African American women, Latinas, and Indigenous women (37 percent, 41 percent, and 42 percent, respectively) are higher than for white women (29 percent).38 Equal pay would cut the poverty rate for single mothers in half, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.39

Women are more likely to hold low-paying jobs than men, which exacerbates the wage inequity between women and men. There has been little progress on reducing the U.S. economy’s high levels of job segregation by gender and race. This is especially true for women of color, who are overrepresented in nearly all lower-paying jobs.

Nearly half of all home care workers are women of color. Home care workers, who provide health care and personal assistance for seniors and people with disabilities, are one of the fastest-growing U.S. occupations. These workers have always been disproportionately women of color. The median pay of home care workers is slightly more than $23,000 a year. That is not enough to move a family of four over the poverty line. More than half of all home care workers receive some type of federal benefit, and nearly one-third receive nutrition assistance.40

Seventy percent of restaurant servers are women. Servers are paid what’s known as a “tipped wage,” a federally established floor that has been set at $2.13 an hour since 1991. Servers are three times as likely to be living in poverty as the rest of the U.S. workforce.41 Read more from Chapter 3: Gender.

Endnotes for Chapter 3: Gender

  1. Malala Yousafzai (July 12, 2013), address to United Nations Youth Assembly.
  2. Grow Africa (2016), Smallholder Working Group Briefing Paper—Women Smallholders.
  3. Landesa (February 22, 2016), “The Law of the Land: Women’s Rights to Land.”
  4. United States Agency for International Development: Land Links (December 1, 2016), Fact Sheet: Land Tenure and Women’s Empowerment.
  5. ( … )
  6. View all report endnotes  read more


Chapter 4: Climate Change
Resilience for an Unpredictable Future

Climate Change Threatens the Goal of
Ending Global Hunger

Building resilience is paramount as the effects of climate change become more severe and affect more people. World hunger has been gradually declining over the past several decades, but increased over the last several years. Climate change was a prominent cause of this reversal. The world cannot end hunger without slowing climate change and identifying affordable strategies to respond to its impacts.

Low-income countries suffered from climate change before others, have the fewest resources to invest in protecting their people and economies, and did least to cause the problem. Climate change is a leading cause of the rise in global hunger seen in the past three years—countries cannot afford to identify and implement solutions to this wide-scale and unprecedented threat to agriculture and health.

Climate change may prove to be the most enduring of all challenges to ending hunger. Some of the hungriest areas of the world are the most exposed. Droughts and storms of historic intensity have become the norm. In 2017, extreme climate events—mainly drought—triggered major hunger crises in 23 countries. Tens of millions of people required urgent food assistance, two-thirds of them in Africa.

The world is running out of time to avert catastrophic impacts, according to a 2018 report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). If carbon dioxide emissions are not reduced substantially by 2030, people will be displaced at rapidly accelerating rates—essentially creating hundreds of millions of climate refugees.

In both tropical and temperate regions, crop yields are on the decline,  whether countries are affected by conflict or not. Evidence shows that rising levels of carbon dioxide reduce the nutritional content of staple grains, such as rice, wheat, and maize—the cornerstones of diets around the world.  A team of public health researchers estimates that climate change could increase child stunting rates by 30 to 50 percent by 2050. This is primarily because people in areas affected by climate change produce less and less food as conditions deteriorate.

Unless the world takes effective action in time, the increasing frequency and severity of climate-related disasters will destroy more and more crops and livestock herds. Waves of rural people will be forced to flee to crowded cities or other countries.

Climate change is a significant but underappreciated reason people seek to cross the U.S. southern border from Mexico.  Droughts in the Dry Corridor region of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have gotten longer and more intense. In 2015-2016, for example, 3.6 million people received humanitarian assistance during a severe and prolonged drought.

Researchers reported in 2018 that there are now twice as many climate-related disasters each year as there were in the early 1990s.  People who experience hunger the most tend to live in rural areas of low- and middle-income countries where they must rely on their own crop production to feed their families. Extreme conditions associated with climate change, such as floods, drought, and crop damaging temperatures, harm people not only by reducing the amount of food they are able to harvest and eat, but also by reducing their incomes and driving up food prices. In 2017, drought in Ethiopia caused the price of maize to suddenly increase by 30 percent,  while Pakistan’s unprecedented flooding in 2010 devastated the national wheat crop and drove prices up by 50 percent.

Smallholder farmers are affected greatly by climate change. They are vulnerable when natural disasters strike, such as floods, and life-sustaining harvests fail. They have little to no savings that could serve as a buffer. Nearly all of their cash income is spent on food. If they own anything, it is often livestock, which are very vulnerable in conditions where even plants cannot thrive.

The burden of climate change falls especially hard on women and girls—the chief suppliers of water for their families. Women in Africa and Asia walk an average of 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) daily to collect it.  Climate change exacerbates water shortages—and already, according to the World Bank, 1.6 billion people live in countries with water scarcity. Climate change could cause this number to double in the next couple of decades.

As a result of the water scarcity, women are forced to walk farther to collect it for cooking and other chores. Water is a necessity, and the task requires the help of everyone. This may include young girls and elderly women alike. Pregnant women and even women recovering from illness may be called upon to help. This unpaid labor leaves women with less time to earn money, care for children, study, or rest.

The effects of climate change can occur so gradually that people may not realize what has happened until several years later. Slow-motion change is as catastrophic as natural disasters for people who depend on their own food production to meet most or all of their needs. Rising sea levels in Bangladesh have destroyed coastal rice growing areas because the increased concentration of salt poisons the soil.  In the Sahel region of Africa, desertification has forced pastoralists to abandon their usual grazing routes. The shortage of resources caused by climate change sometimes leads to conflict, and in the Sahel, pastoralist groups arriving in areas where farmers have already settled has meant violent clashes over the depleted resources.

When governments either cannot or will not respond effectively to problems caused by climate change, all too often the result is conflict, hunger crises, or both. Syria’s disastrous civil war has more to do with climate change than people might expect. The conflict broke out against the backdrop of a devastating drought that lasted from 2006 until 2010. The drought destroyed the livelihoods of more than half of the country’s farmers and herders—and by 2009, 80 percent of all the cattle in the entire country had died. Waves of people fled Syria’s rural areas to try to earn income in urban centers. The Syrian government’s ineffectual response to the food security crisis caused by the drought  fueled longstanding political grievances, as did overcrowding in the cities. The government of Syria did not respond to the suffering caused by the intersection of climate change and hunger—setting in motion one of the worst humanitarian disasters since World War II.
Read more from Chapter 4: Climate Change.

U.S. Jobs to Fight Climate Change and Hunger

Low-income communities are the most vulnerable to climate change, especially communities of color. To minimize the effects of climate change, the United States needs to invest in improving the national infrastructure and in decarbonizing our energy supply by replacing fossil fuels with clean-energy alternatives. The good news is that it is possible to accomplish both these tasks while simultaneously strengthening the economy by creating millions of new, fairly paid jobs.

In the decade leading up to Hurricane Katrina, the number of major weather-related disasters in the United States increased by twothirds.24 The devastating impacts of Katrina should have changed the conversation about climate change and how to respond to it. It may have done so for some U.S. officials and residents, but any sense of urgency turned out to be fragmented and short-lived.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy slammed into states along the Northeast Coast, leaving 7.5 million households and businesses in the region without power.25 New York City had a record storm surge of 13 feet that flooded the subway system in lower Manhattan. The Metropolitan Transit Authority estimated that the storm caused nearly $5 billion in infrastructure damage.26

2017 was the country’s worst hurricane season yet—in terms of money, but also in loss of life and the number of people who were displaced. Hurricanes Irma and Maria were Category 5, the most powerful, and Hurricane Harvey was Category 4. It was the first time on record that three or more Category 4 storms occurred in a single year, but the increasing frequency of such ferocious storms is leading climate scientists to describe this as the new normal.27

In 2018, Hurricanes Florence and Michael caused historic levels of destruction in the Carolinas and the Florida Panhandle.

According to climate scientists, climate change meant that Hurricane Florence brought 50 percent more rain than it otherwise would have.28 The evidence continues to mount, and it is difficult at this point for anyone to make a logical argument that climate change is not real.

People of lower economic means suffer the most when major natural disasters hit. They tend to live in neighborhoods with a high concentration of poverty. The Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, the city’s poorest neighborhood, sustained the most severe damage from Hurricane Katrina. Nearly everyone who lived in the Lower Ninth Ward was African American,29 and racial discrimination was a primary reason for the neglect of their community, including its infrastructure and construction. In Houston, low-income African American communities also lost far more than upper-income white neighborhoods. The reason is clear: Houston is one of the most racially segregated cities in the nation, and African American communities are concentrated in the most flood-prone areas of the city.30

Hurricanes are an example of climate change’s sudden events. Sea-level rise, on the other hand, is a slow-onset impact. Nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population lives in densely populated coastal areas.31 Poverty is again a reliable predictor of how vulnerable individuals and communities are. Some indigenous communities in Florida, Louisiana, and the Pacific face complete destruction from rising sea levels. Since 1955, Isle de Jean Charles in southeastern Louisiana, home to the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw indigenous communities, has lost 98 percent of its land to sea-level rise.32

Another way to see how people of different socioeconomic classes respond to natural disaster—or the risk of natural disaster—is to study migration patterns. A study that looked at 80 years of data, from 1930 through 2010, found that affluent people are more likely to move away from areas prone to natural disaster, while people with few resources are often stuck living in these places.33 In Puerto Rico, people with more money led the exodus from the island following the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

According to the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, the population in Puerto Rico may
eventually be 14 percent lower than it was before the hurricane.34

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and have a legal right to relocate to the U.S. mainland. But this is not a genuine option for people who don’t have the resources needed to leave and resettle. Even before Hurricane
Maria, nearly half of Puerto Rico’s residents lived below the poverty line.35 This rate is now higher because so many people who had enough resources to leave have done so.

Just as in low-income countries, hunger is a concern after natural disaster. Climate change will be a continual challenge to the infrastructure and the budgets of federal nutrition programs. Disaster SNAP (D-SNAP) enables families who would not normally be eligible for SNAP benefits to qualify by deducting from their incomes expenses related to evacuation, injury or death, clean-up, or repair, as well as income lost because of the disaster.36 In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued temporary SNAP benefits to 2.1 million and 2.5 million people, respectively.37 D-SNAP is typically one of the fastest ways that help gets to disaster victims.
Read more from Chapter 4: Climate Change.

Endnotes for Chapter 4: Climate

  1. USAID (2012), Building Resilience to Recurrent Crises.
  2. Food Security Information Network (2018), Global Report on Food Crises 2018
  3. FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WHO, and WFP (2018), The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018: Building Climate Resilience for Food Security and Nutrition.
  4. Matthew R. Smith and Samuel S. Myers (September 2018), “Impact of anthropogenic CO2 emissions on global human nutrition,” Nature Climate Change, Vol. 8, 834-839.
  5. Simon J. Lloyd, R. Sari Kovats, and Zaid Chalabi (2011), “Climate, Crop Yields, and Undernutrition: Development of a Model to Quantify the Impact of Climate Scenarios on Child Undernutrition,” Environmental Health Perspectives 119(12).
  6. ( … )
  7. View all report endnotes  read more


Chapter 5: Fragility
Cultivate Peace and Justice

Wars Create Hunger, and Hunger Creates Wars

Countries at peace are making steady progress against hunger while most of those that lag furthest behind are conflict-affected. Conflict is the main cause of the past two years’ largest global refugee crisis since World War II. The global community and national governments around the world must assist noncombatants whose lives are turned upside down, their health and safety put at grave risk. With humanitarian and development assistance working in concert, it is possible for countries to make rapid progress once peace is secured.

Peace and stability are the two most valuable assets we have to end global hunger. Armed conflict is the exact opposite—it rapidly reverses any progress a nation or community may have made. Today, most people who are hungry live in conflict-affected countries,  and people living in conflict-affected countries are three times as likely to be at risk of hunger.

In turn, hunger can easily lead to conflict. For example, armed factions such as the terror group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, do not necessarily need a compelling ideology to replenish their ranks because joining the group is one of the few ways to earn income. Young men desperate to escape hunger and deep poverty “volunteer” to fight.

Over the last decade, the number of armed conflicts has increased. Most are civil wars within a country’s borders that pit government forces against one or more rebel groups. In the last few years, the increase in the number of people needing urgent food assistance is a result of intensified conflict in a handful of countries: Myanmar, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan, and Yemen.

By the end of 2017, the number of forcibly displaced people had reached 68.5 million. This is the highest number recorded since the end of World War II.  The United Nations World Food Program (WFP), which provides food relief during humanitarian emergencies, reported that armed conflict is responsible for 80 percent of the world’s humanitarian needs.  In 2018, WFP reported that 10 of the 13 largest hunger crises it worked on were in conflict-affected nations.

Armed fighters, pitched battles, and other signs of conflict are hallmarks of fragile states. Another characteristic is poor or weak governance. When a national government is unable or unwilling to provide services and protection to large swaths of its people, those citizens are unlikely to believe in its legitimacy. As a result, citizens are far more likely to take up arms with the goals of securing their basic needs and establishing a government that they consider legitimate and capable of protecting them. The potential for violent crime is another consequence of weak governance—whether organized by criminal enterprises or seemingly random.

Violent crime is a major reason that increasing numbers of Central American refugees are trycing to cross the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum in the United States. During the past couple of years, an increasing share of migrants is either children arriving without adults or family groups. The majority of migrants seeking refuge in the United States come from the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. In 2015 when women arriving from the Northern Triangle and Mexico were screened, 82 percent were found to qualify for entry to the United States as refugees based on the legal standard of a “credible fear of persecution or torture” if forced to return to their countries.

Hunger is another reason for migration. All three countries have very high levels of hunger and malnutrition. More than half of Northern Triangle residents live below their own national poverty lines. In Honduras, nearly two-thirds of the population lives in poverty,  and nearly half of Guatemala’s children are chronically malnourished.  Malnutrition kills many young children and causes irreversible damage to many who survive.

Climate change is another driver of fragility. Central America’s geography makes it extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change: it is in the path of tropical storms from both the east and west. Extreme weather events such as droughts, extreme heat, and flooding have become increasingly frequent. Between 1994 and 2013, Honduras was number one in the world among countries affected by extreme weather events, with Nicaragua fourth, Guatemala ninth, and El Salvador twelfth.  In 2011, flooding in El Salvador destroyed an estimated 60 percent of the entire national corn and bean crops.

During armed conflict, noncombatants forced to flee their homes to survive are at tremendous risk of hunger and malnutrition. Many more people die from hunger and disease during and after wars than die from bombs, bullets, or other direct violence.  In interviews with aid workers, South Sudanese refugees who found protection at a U.N. camp described the ordeal of enduring days of hunger and thirst. As one aid agency reported, “The only water they could get was from swamps, and they neither boiled nor filtered it…They described eating the ‘gum,’ the part of the tree exposed when one cuts a branch.”

Perhaps nothing speaks more to the moral indecency of hunger than images of children suffering from wasting, a severe form of malnutrition that leads to death if not treated in time. In the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh, currently the world’s largest refugee camp with almost a million people, the World Food Program reports that 21 percent of all children younger than 5 are acutely malnourished, and 7.5 percent are severely malnourished.  The refugees are from the Rohingya ethnic and religious minority community in Myanmar (formerly Burma). They fled their homes when they came under attack by government forces. Ethnic, religious, and racial minorities are too often targets of persecution, and they make up a large share of the world’s refugees.

Ensuring that people have access to food and can build longer-term food security is vital to a peace that will last. History shows that in post-conflict situations, which are delicate by nature, hunger increases the risk that fighting will flare up again. Read more from Chapter 5: Fragility.

U.S. Communities Left Behind

Structural racism is a stark reality in the United States—and it persists despite civil rights protections and progress against institutional and interpersonal forms of racism. It is maintained by public policies that are the antithesis of those needed to build a more equitable society. Because these policies were put in place deliberately, they will not just melt away—they must be dismantled. The fact that steps needed to accomplish this have not been taken explains why people of color remain far more likely to live with poverty and food insecurity than whites.

Securing and protecting everyone’s right to a living wage, safe and affordable housing, and a quality education should be at the top of the national agenda for reversing structural racism and ending hunger.

Fragility looks different in the United States than in the international context, where “fragile states” usually suffer from some combination of high rates of hunger and malnutrition, conflict, vulnerability to shocks such as natural disaster, and weak governance. As a nation, the United States does not fit into this category.

Some communities in the United States are more vulnerable to fragility. The reasons for this vary. Neighborhoods where many residents are immigrants, particularly immigrants from Latin America, may suffer due to the difficulty undocumented people have in finding work, the constant threat of being detained and deported, and the difficulties faced by family members who remain when a parent and/or breadwinner is deported.

Other communities that could be described as fragile, are those disproportionately affected by the nationwide opioid epidemic.

While the epidemic is not confined to rural areas, the Rust Belt, or low-income communities, poverty only exacerbates the impact of opioid overdoses on a community. This is particularly true since those affected tend to be younger and therefore likelier to be parents of young children and breadwinners.

Some communities in the United States are delineated as areas of “persistent poverty,” meaning that they have had poverty rates of 20 percent or higher for the past 30 years. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture identified 353 persistent poverty counties, the majority of which are non-metro. Even worse, 708 counties had persistent child poverty.32

Other U.S. communities have extremely high poverty rates, but do not meet the definition of a “persistent” poverty area because they do not have a 30-year history. “Concentrated” poverty is a term used by researchers to refer to communities with poverty rates of 40 percent or higher. People of color who live with poverty are far more likely to live in areas of concentrated poverty than white people who live with poverty. About half of U.S. residents with incomes below the poverty line are white, but they make up less than 20 percent of the residents of areas of concentrated poverty. Among people living in poverty, Latinos are more than three times as likely to be living in communities of concentrated poverty as whites, and African Americans are almost five times as likely.33

Some communities are both areas of persistent poverty and areas of concentrated poverty.34 Often, these are African American neighborhoods with intergenerational poverty. African American communities of concentrated poverty are a product of structural racism: laws, policies, and systems of segregation. They have high poverty rates, are excluded from the larger economic and social spheres, and receive little attention and few resources from government. Even after segregation was no longer legally allowed, policies such as redlining in the real estate industry and racial discrimination in wages and benefits kept communities largely segregated and marginalized.

This has contributed to residents having less power and fewer resources. The consequences can be deadly. For example, hazardous waste facilities are nearly twice as likely to be sited near communities of color.35 More than 30 years ago, in 1987, the United Church of Christ (UCC) Commission for Racial Justice published Toxic Waste and Race in the United States, the seminal research study detailing the scope of environmental racism in the United States. But little has changed since its publication. More recently, climate change has opened new frontiers of environmental racism.36

In Flint, Michigan, where the majority of residents are African American, authorities refused for more than a year to investigate reports of unsafe drinking water. Elected officials were under pressure to cut costs because of the city’s dire economic situation, so they were reluctant to acknowledge any problems with the new, less expensive source for the city’s water they had adopted.

Flint’s water proved to be contaminated with high levels of lead. Lead is particularly dangerous to children and to pregnant women because it can cause learning disabilities and birth defects.37

Flint is not unique—similar water contamination situations have been identified in many other U.S. communities of concentrated poverty. Children of color nationwide, especially African Americans, are at higher risk of lead contamination than white children.38

Communities of color in metro areas also have less access to fresher, healthier foods because there are fewer supermarkets, particularly in African American communities.39

Some children have very few opportunities to eat healthy food apart from meals through the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. Although eligible families can receive benefits to buy food through federal nutrition programs such as WIC and SNAP, this does not solve the problem shared by many people in concentrated poverty areas: living far from a supermarket without access to reliable transportation.

Living in a community of concentrated poverty also exposes people to racism deeply ingrained in every level of the U.S. criminal justice system. People of color, particularly those who live in low-income communities, face much higher odds of being stopped, fined, arrested, and incarcerated for minor offenses.40 More blacks than whites are serving time for a felony, yet whites with felony convictions outnumber blacks with felony convictions by 1 million people.41 Residents of communities where many, if not, most people know someone who has been the victim of an unjustified arrest or police violence are far less likely to turn to police for security. Yet often the police are the only recourse available—for example, to victims of domestic violence.

A 2018 research report estimated the cost of child poverty in the United States to be about $1 trillion annually. More than a third of this figure is attributed to crime and incarceration.42 Family members and larger communities of people who are incarcerated pay the highest price. For example, two-thirds of families with an incarcerated family member struggle to meet basic needs such as food and housing,43 and children growing up in a family with an incarcerated parent are at greater risk of being homeless44 and of dropping out of school.45

As the size of the U.S. prison population has exploded in recent decades, communities of color have suffered devastating losses of human capital. There are significant costs in dollars when the incomes and income-earning potential of large numbers of men and, increasingly, women are taken from a community. The losses in parental time and attention are incalculable. After serving time in prison or jail, people often return to low-income communities and/or communities of color. More than 620,000 people are released from state and federal prisons annually,46 and nearly 11 million people cycle out of local jails each year.47 Their job prospects are dismal. Even when the national unemployment rate is low, the unemployment rate among people of color is twice that of whites. The stigma of a criminal record—or even just an arrest—and barriers associated with living in a low-income neighborhood, such as poor access to transportation, can make finding a job all but impossible.

A report by the Brookings Institution found that nearly half of the formerly incarcerated men in the study had no reported earnings one year after release.48 Racial and gender inequities follow people post-incarceration, reducing their ability to earn enough to provide for themselves and their families. Black women and men are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed post-incarceration as their white counterparts. Black women are the most disadvantaged, relegated to lower-paying fields and overrepresentation in part-time work.49

Statistical evidence on food insecurity among formerly incarcerated people is limited to studies of relatively small sample sizes, but the data we do have is shocking. For example, a study by the National Institutes of Health found a food insecurity rate of 91 percent among people recently released from prison.50 Addressing inequities among returning citizens will have a significant impact on hunger in the United States. Read more from Chapter 5: Fragility.

Endnotes for Chapter 5: Fragility

  1. World Food Program (May 24, 2018). “We can’t end hunger if we don’t end conflict.”
  2. FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP, and WHO (2017), The State of Food Security and Nutrition: Building resilience for peace and food security.
  3. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2016), Peace and Food Security: Investing in resilience to sustain rural livelihoods amid conflict.
  4. Food Security Information Network (2018), Global Report on Food Crises 2018
  5. UNHCR: Refugee Statistics.
  6. ( … )
  7. View all report endnotes  read more


Print or Download Report Materials

2019 Hunger Report Executive Summary. Illustration by Doug Puller / Bread for the World Institute

2019 Hunger Report Executive Summary
Ending hunger is within reach. 2030 sounds audacious. But decades of victory over hunger, despite recent setbacks, reveal a different picture. It is rapid global progress, not any one which persuades us that ending hunger and malnutrition is possible sooner rather than later.

Christian Study Guide
The study guide offers a biblically-based tool to explore God’s call to protect vulnerable people in the 21st century. The guide summarizes the report’s overall themes and provides discussion questions and group activities on select topics in the report.

Introduction: Ending Hunger is Within Reach
A national effort to end hunger could bring our country together and this goal has in fact, already brought the world together. Ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030 is one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015 by the governments of 193 countries, including the United States, with support from their civil society and business sectors.

Chapter 1: Livelihoods
The only way to end hunger with dignity is to enable people to earn the income they need to provide enough healthy food for themselves and their children.

Chapter 2: Nutrition
Maternal and child nutrition is a critical factor in healthy human development. Nutrition is a lifelong necessity for the health and well-being of individuals, their communities, and ultimately their countries.

Chapter 3: Gender
Women in every society are treated as less valuable and/or less capable. Women and girls are the largest group of marginalized people. Yet food security is dependent on them.

Chapter 4: Climate Change
Populations that are most affected by the impact of climate change are those most likely to be hungry. Climate change is the biggest barrier to ending hunger once and for all.

Chapter 5: Fragility
When marginalized groups or people living in extreme poverty turn to violence, hunger is very often an underlying factor. Hunger is both a cause and an effect of the violence associated with fragile environments.

Religious Leaders’ Statement
“As followers of Christ, we believe it is possible to build the moral and political will to end hunger by 2030. The world has made unprecedented progress against hunger, poverty, and disease in recent decades. The United States has made progress more slowly than many other countries, but it is feasible to end hunger here, too.” — excerpt from religious leaders’ statement

Hunger Report Sponsors
Co-Publisher: Margaret Wallhagen and Bill Strawbridge; Partners: American Baptist Churches USA World Relief, American Baptist Home Mission Societies, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Christian Women Connection, Church of the Brethren, Community of Christ, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Covenant World Relief/Evangelical Covenant Church, Evangelical Covenant Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Growing Hope Globally, Independent Presbyterian Church Foundation, International Orthodox Christian Charities, National Baptist Convention, USA, INC, Society of African Missions, United Church of Christ, Women’s Missionary Society of the African Methodist Episcopal Church

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