Institute Insights: April 2018


Editor's note: Join David Beckmann and a distinguished panel to launch the 2018 Hunger Report on Tuesday, April 10, 9 a.m.-11 a.m., at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C.

Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking to a mass meeting at the Mason Temple in support of striking sanitation workers. Memphis Press-Scimitar/University of Memphis Libraries Special Collections

From the Director

Photo: Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking to a mass meeting at the Mason Temple in support of striking sanitation workers. Memphis Press-Scimitar/University of Memphis Libraries Special Collections

This month marks the 50-year anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  It is also the 50th anniversary of a new movement he was working to launch in the last months of his life—the Poor People's Campaign.

The year 1968 was during the height of the civil rights movement. African Americans continued to fight discriminatory laws and policies such as segregation. Moreover, the injustices in the public sphere mirrored the hostility of many whites, particularly but by no means only in the south. Even beyond the economic, political, and social exclusion of African Americans, white hate groups committed brutal crimes such as lynching with impunity. 

All this is to say, Dr. King and other African American leaders had more than enough work already. But King's realization that people living in poverty have universal needs, regardless of race, ethnicity, or U.S. region, persuaded him that a Poor People's Campaign could bring people together and give them a stronger voice. As we pointed out in our February issue, these universal needs include better jobs, housing, education, health care, and dignity.

Thousands of low-income people from all backgrounds came to Washington, D.C., to emphasize the need for solidarity and an inclusive vision in order to end hunger and extreme poverty. People from Native American reservations, Appalachia, isolated towns in the rural south, and crowded urban areas in the north. People from Native Alaskans to Latino migrant farm workers to immigrants and new Americans from Asia and Africa. They were unified in calling on their government and society to include them and their children in the opportunities America stands for. They did not paper over and ignore or deny differences, but focused on commonalities.

King had been in Memphis that March and until his assassination on April 4th to support poor, mostly black sanitation workers in their struggle for fair wages and better working conditions. There he held up the potential of poor people to come together to transform the whole of society. He knew that for the load of poverty to be lifted, the thinking and behavior of a critical mass of the American people would have to be changed.

His vision was that poor people could become a strong enough force to change other Americans' views of poverty and, according to a history of the Poor People's Campaign,"[dispel] the myths and stereotypes that upheld the mass complacency and leave the root causes of poverty intact."

Today, despite progress in some areas, hungry and poor people are still largely invisible to many of their "more fortunate" neighbors. Many families are, in a sense, camouflaged in low-wage jobs. The buying power of the minimum wage, its "real" value, has fallen so far relative to the cost of housing and health insurance and child care and other basic necessities that families with one or even two adults working full time cannot make ends meet.

Bread for the World Institute will release our 2018 Hunger Report, The Jobs Challenge, on April 10. This issue of Institute Insights previews a few topics in the report—components of what we will need to do to finally realize Dr. King's goals for the Poor People's Campaign.

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.

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In the United States, the preferred way of ending hunger is by ensuring that everyone who wants a job can get one and that it pays a sufficient wage.

Crumbs Aren’t Enough: Policies to Combat Wage Stagnation

By Todd Post

At the risk of sounding glib, it's difficult to live off “crumbs,” the small amount of money that low-wage workers take home. For the typical low-income family, housing consumes more than half their income. Transportation bites off another formidable chunk. Child care, a necessity for working parents with small children, costs a minimum of hundreds of dollars a month.

Because it is so hard to make ends meet, many low-income families who would rather be able to support themselves entirely must apply for government assistance or depend on charity.

It wasn't always so difficult—but Americans don't always realize that so much has changed. Fifty years ago, one breadwinner in a family, earning just the minimum wage, was paid enough to feed and support a small family. This was largely because, from after World War II until about 1980, wages were rising more quickly for the lowest-paid workers than for everyone else. 

Since then, the trend has been reversed, and the wages of America's lowest paid workers have been stagnant for decades. This means that a minimum wage worker simply cannot support a family without help from government programs or charity. Government programs are crucial to preventing hunger. But earned income is a more empowering and sustainable way to prevent hunger. Ending hunger for good in the United States requires improved earnings for those who work in low-wage jobs.

In the 2018 Hunger Report, The Jobs Challenge: Working to End Hunger by 2030, we consider how government policies can respond to wage stagnation. Below I highlight a few of these. This is not a comprehensive list, but it would sure be a good place to start. 

Regular increases in the minimum wage. Somebody working full-time at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour earns just over $15,000 a year. Some states and local jurisdictions have adopted a higher minimum wage than the federal rate. However, nowhere in the country does the local minimum wage represent what one might describe as a living wage.

Raising the federal minimum wage requires Congress to act, something it has not done since 2009. Evidence collected over many years shows that incremental raises to the minimum wage do not result in higher unemployment or higher inflation, although these are common arguments of opponents to raising the minimum wage. 

Since we're on the topic of the minimum wage, let's not pass up the opportunity to add that the federal government allows employers to pay certain types of workers subminimum wages. Tipped workers—here we are mainly talking about waiters and waitresses, a.k.a. servers—earn a subminimum wage of $2.13 an hour. In some cases, tips far exceed the hourly wage, but in most cases, tips are modest or sometimes nonexistent. Research shows that servers are three times as likely as the rest of the U.S. workforce to be living in poverty.

Tight labor markets. When the unemployment rate is exceptionally low, such as we've seen in recent months, economists describe this as a tight labor market. This is especially good for low-wage workers. When the labor market is tight, employers in the industries that employ large numbers of low-wage workers must raise wages to hold onto their most productive workers. What we've seen over the last couple of years, since the labor market began tightening, is modest wage increases.

Policymakers at the Federal Reserve exert a great deal of control over the unemployment rate through their ability to raise and lower interest rates. Lower interest rates reduce unemployment, while higher rates have the opposite effect. As a matter of policy, the Fed has a dual mandate, to achieve maximum employment and maintain low inflation. Except during recessions, when the economy needs stimulus, the Fed has regularly erred on the side of low inflation. It would be good to see the Fed on the side of low unemployment.

Support for unions. Workers in unions earn higher wages than nonunion peers. This is especially true for women and people of color. Given the prevailing trends in wage stagnation in recent decades, you would expect more workers to join unions. But union membership in the private sector has been declining steadily for almost as long as wages have been. Presently, the share of the U.S. workforce who belong to unions is lower than at any point since the 1930s, when legislation was enacted to protect workers' rights to organize. Unions did not fall out of favor with workers. Rather, government policies weakened the ability of workers to unionize. Unions continue to thrive in peer countries such as Canada, Germany, and some Scandinavian countries, where globalization and technological changes have also disrupted labor markets. U.S. policies could strengthen the union movement again by simply making it easier for workers to organize without fear of employer intimidation or retribution.

There is a lot more on wage stagnation and what policymakers can do about it in the 2018 Hunger Report.

Todd Post is senior researcher, writer, and editor for Bread for the World Institute.

Editors note: Join David Beckmann and a distinguished panel to launch the 2018 Hunger Report on Tuesday, April 10, 9 a.m.-11 a.m., at the National Press Club.

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Dominic Duren spends a few moments with his son Dominc. Dominic is the director of the HELP Program in Cinncinati, Ohio. Joseph Molieri / Bread for the World

The Jobs Challenge for Returning Citizens

By Marlysa D. Gamblin

The first-ever Second Chance Month was April 2017, so we are marking its first anniversary. Second Chance Month is a national bipartisan effort to integrate people returning from our jails and prisons back into society. Second Chance Month is grounded in the collective belief that every person has God-given potential and dignity.

But the data tells us that most people who are returning from prison do not get the support they need to realize their potential and live with dignity. In fact, they face barriers right away. People being released usually have very little cash in their possession. Many don’t have government-issued identification, which is essential to getting a job. According to a National Institutes of Health report, 91 percent of returning citizens are food insecure.

These are indicators of a lack of access to basic resources that stifles people’s ability to provide for themselves and their families. In our 2018 Hunger Report, Bread for the World dives deeply into the “jobs challenge”—the barriers that too many U.S. workers face in trying to support their families. Since even typical workers are confronting stagnant wages, lack of paid sick leave, and other difficulties, we know that people returning to communities from imprisonment have an especially difficult time.

We often think of providing dignity to people as enabling them to get good work that pays enough to support them. Many people simply don’t have this, including returning citizens, who are some of those most in need of help. It is difficult for people with criminal records to get any job at all, let alone one that pays a livable wage. One in five returnees earns very little—about $7,600 annually, putting them in what the U.S. government calls “deep” poverty, or living on less than half the “poverty line” amount. In a 2015 study released by the Ella Baker Center on Human Rights, 75 percent of returning citizens reported that finding a job was “difficult” or “nearly impossible.”

The American Bar Association has documented 38,000 statutes nationwide that apply to individuals with criminal records, more than half of which can be used to deny employment. According to the Heritage Foundation, between 60 percent and 70 percent of all 46,000 collateral consequences  identified by its own research are employment-related, and most do not consider the offense’s relevance to the job.

Bottom line—we have a “jobs challenge” for the average worker, but an even bigger jobs challenge for the hundreds of thousands of Americans returning to society every year. One main cause may be the political challenge at the heart of the issue. Most Americans believe that returning citizens deserve a second chance, but we have not built and exercised the political will needed to back our beliefs with action.

One of the best ways to ensure that people have a genuine second chance is to enable them to get jobs. As we discuss in the report, we can meet the “jobs challenge” in stages:  

  • Supporting people while they are still incarcerated.
    Congress, as well as state governments, should support legislation for programs that prepare inmates to re-enter the job market. A few possibilities are rehabilitative job training programs, apprenticeship programs, and programs that connect inmates with employers upon release. Research shows that rehabilitative job training support reduces recidivism. That is clearly a positive for society in general and for taxpayers, and it also increases the earning potential of those returning so they can put food on the table for themselves and their families. 
  • Eliminating barriers to securing a job after incarceration.
    Congress should pass legislation that removes the barriers known as collateral consequences, most of which are related to employment, and work with states to do the same. One example is “banning the box,” or making it illegal to include a question about criminal convictions on job applications. The idea is that people should have a fair chance to be considered before the topic of criminal records comes up. Another example is removing “good character” clauses that prevent people from becoming barbers, among other occupations. There is growing consensus that a person who wants to work and earn a living should be able to do so, regardless of previous offenses. Making this possible will require, at a bare minimum, stopping the practice of automatically denying a job to anyone with a criminal record.  
  • Ensuring that returning citizens qualify for jobs that pay a livable wage, rather than for only low-wage temporary work.
    Returnees who have jobs yet live in deep poverty are mainly working for extremely low wages, and their jobs are not year-round and/or full-time. Congress should be sure to include and prioritize returning citizens in any national infrastructure and jobs bills that are enacted. In addition, communities at the state and local levels should make a deliberate effort to train returning citizens in skills that will equip them to transition from lower-paid positions to higher-paid technology positions when the economy shifts. 

Marlysa D. Gamblin is the Domestic Advisor for Policy and Programs for Specific Populations at Bread for the World Institute.

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Tohomina Akter stands in front of her home as she talks on the phone with her husband. Photo by Laura Pohl / Bread for the World

Hunger and Jobs: Getting to the Specifics

By Michele Learner

When I mention to people where I work and what our goal is – "ending hunger around the world, including in the United States"—I usually hear "That's great!" followed quickly by "Wow, that must be overwhelming."

Of course, on many levels it is overwhelming. Our 2018 Hunger Report: The Jobs Challenge: Working to End Hunger by 2030, focuses mainly on jobs and hunger in the United States. Meeting the global jobs challenge looks even more daunting. Relevant topics are almost literally all over the map, and any report with a section called "Wanted: 1.6 Billion Jobs" is clearly not limited in ambition.

The report can discuss only a few of the most important aspects of "jobs to end hunger," and each of these is a complex subject in itself—building infrastructure, improving education, strengthening trade capacity. Yet few things are more tangible than hunger to hungry people, and unemployment to people who need to feed themselves and their families. Strategies to solve these problems are also concrete, and therefore they can be accomplished—despite the need to scale up some solutions to cover perhaps tens of millions of people.

"You have to start from where you are" is a truism. Sometimes "where you are" is an advantage. For example, by 2015, an estimated 94 percent of people in middle- and low-income countries had access to a mobile phone—and therefore to a literal world of information, from crop prices to advice about illness. Not to mention saving the time and money needed to build all those telephone poles. In just the three years 2011-2014, mobile phones reduced the size of the global population without access to banking services by 20 percent.

I'll never forget my first quick glimpse of Bangladesh, several years ago now. Emerging from the airport in Dhaka at 5 a.m., I saw huge crowds of people, all packed tightly together on three sides behind guardrails, awaiting arrivals. The second thing I saw was a surge of traffic, which included trucks, cars, rickshaws, buses, motorbikes, bicycles, carts pulled by animals, and pedestrians, all together since there were no lanes or medians. Reading "approximately 160 million people in an area the size of Wisconsin" is one thing. Seeing the reality is another.

Bangladesh used to be called names, such as "basket case." It certainly faces problems it can do little about. It is one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world. Even before climate effects began to be obvious, one-third of the land flooded every year. It turns out that there is arsenic in large portions of the soil needed to grow the staple crop, rice.

On the other hand, the country has made incredible progress. By 2015, 98 percent of all children were enrolling in school, and 80 percent were completing primary school. About 54 percent were enrolling in secondary school. According to the World Bank, "Bangladesh has achieved gender parity in access [to education], in addition to dramatic decreases in disparities between the highest and lowest consumption quintiles at both the primary and secondary levels."

Everywhere I went in Bangladesh, I saw large groups of children on their way to and from school, including a kindergarten-age albino girl in a small village, sheltered under a parasol held by her sister. Bangladesh's education efforts also include an initiative to reach older children who either never started school or had to drop out early on. They attend special Ananda ("Joy") schools. 

I saw groups of women learning about nutrition. Posters listed various nutrients and nutritional needs along with pictures of which inexpensive foods and locally available plants supply them, which are rich in B vitamins, which have significant protein, which are important for nursing mothers, etc. Women said that one big difference between their mothers' generation and their own is that while their mothers had six or seven children, the average now is slightly over two children per woman. 

Just one more of many possible examples from Bangladesh:  the country has been working for a number of years to reduce the population's vulnerability during the inevitable natural disasters. One of the main strategies is a cyclone warning system combined with enough cyclone shelters for everyone. Cyclone Sidr, in 2007, killed 3,400 people. This is not a number to take lightly. But Cyclone Bhola, in 1970, killed approximately 350,000 people.

Bangladesh is still a poor country, facing complex problems with few resources. There are still too few jobs, particularly jobs in the formal sector that offer occupational health and safety protections and other rights to workers. But the point is that Bangladesh did not see itself as a basket case nation, completely at the mercy of nature and dependent on charity. It didn't generate sudden wealth for the population. But it didn't take wealth to lower infant mortality dramatically, raise educational levels significantly, and keep far more of its people from being killed by cyclones. It took identifying the specifics of the problems and potential solutions.

Michele Learner is associate editor for Bread for the World Institute.

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Ugandan farmer Iko Nakol and one of his sons are pictured here with Bread for the World government relations analyst Ryan Quinn.

No Livelihoods Means No Nutrition in Uganda

By Jordan Teague

Iko Nakol and his family live in Uganda’s northern region of Karamoja. Until recently, people in Karamoja have endured decades of inter-ethnic conflict and insecurity that restricted their freedom of movement, deprived them of essential basic services, and caused significant damage to their livelihoods, or ways of earning a living. Karamoja is primarily a semi-nomadic pastoralist area, meaning that most households make a living from raising livestock.

This way of life was intricately linked with the conflict. Karamoja is a semi-arid region with erratic rainfall, so grazing areas and water points are limited. Pastoralists consider livestock a sign of wealth and status—not surprisingly since livestock are critical to their earning a living. Iko Nakol and his neighbors depend on their herds of cattle and goats for their incomes. Conflict in the region intensified when large-scale armed cattle raiding—stealing cattle from people of other ethnic groups—became common.

Because of the conflict, cattle raiding, and restricted mobility, approximately 70 percent of Karamoja’s livestock has been lost since 2008,1 a huge loss of resources and household income. Iko Nakol depended on his herds for social status, income, bargaining tokens, and sometimes food and milk for his family. Losing so much livestock has prevented him from earning enough income and providing food for his household.

Steady and fruitful livelihoods provide the foundation for families to generate income allowing them to purchase nutritious foods. The effect of the Karamoja conflict on malnutrition and the accompanying loss of livelihoods is clear. By 2011, when Karamoja was emerging from the conflict and insecurity, stunting was very high: 45 percent of all children under 5 were stunted.2 Food and other resources were scarce, and many families lacked access to food and money to buy it.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has been active in Karamoja for many years, providing emergency food aid. In 2012, its Food for Peace program began two development food assistance projects to rebuild livelihoods and improve food and nutrition security. These two programs work with families in Karamoja to rebuild their pastoralist livelihood, supplemented with agriculture.

Food for Peace is working to help rebuild markets, develop extension services, and boost the agriculture and livestock private sector markets. This will bring jobs and livelihoods within reach for the people of Karamoja. Food for Peace also trains agriculture and animal health extension workers. This brings knowledge, resources, and veterinary services to farmers to help ensure the viability of their assets for earning a living. For example, an animal health worker supported by Food for Peace regularly visits Iko Nakol. They treat Iko Nakol’s animals for common diseases and consult with him on keeping his animals healthy—a service that was otherwise unavailable to him.

Food for Peace’s work to rebuild market systems includes building market infrastructure and organizing market actors and logistics. This enables farmers to buy, sell, and trade their assets and generate income. For example, Food for Peace supports agro-dealers in Karamoja, who supply seeds and other agricultural supplies and technologies to farmers. All these efforts either create jobs for people in the Karamoja region or help rebuild and sustain families’ livelihoods.

These efforts, resulting in increased income and coupled with Food for Peace’s investments in nutrition and health services for women and children, have the potential to greatly improve maternal and child nutrition in Karamoja. Indeed, there has already been progress: in 2016, 35.2 percent of children under 5 were stunted, down 10 percent in just 5 years.3 Iko Nakol’s herd is healthy and growing. He can afford to purchase nutritious food for his family because his livelihood has been made viable again. Without it, achieving good nutrition would be difficult. With it, nutrition is possible.

Jordan Teague is international policy analyst with Bread for the World Institute.


1. Mathys E, Cashin K, & K Sethuraman (2017). USAID Office of Food for Peace Food Security Desk Review for Karamoja, Uganda. Washington, DC: FHI360/FANTA.

2. Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) and ICF International Inc. (2012). Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2011. Kampala, Uganda: UBOS and Calverton, Maryland: ICF International Inc.

3. UBOS and ICF (2017). Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2016: Key Indicators Report. Kampala, Uganda: UBOS and Rockville, Maryland: UBOS and ICF.

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