Poverty Is Not A Side Dish
Oct 30, 2009
By Jodie Levin-Epstein
This article first appeared in Spotlight on Poverty & Opportunity
On the campaign trail, Barack Obama pledged to end childhood hunger by 2015 (pdf). The Obama Administration's 2010 budget repeated and embraced the hunger target. Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has taken another step: the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is seeking public input on strategies to eliminate childhood hunger by 2015. FNS has been holding regional listening sessions and will offer webinars to glean ideas in November and December. The Administration's commitment makes sense because hunger in a rich nation is unacceptable.
However, hunger is not an isolated issue. Food insecurity affects millions of American families who are struggling to achieve financial stability. A USDA study released last month finds that in the U.S., 16 percent of families with children experienced food insecurity at some point during 2007. The same study also finds that 85 percent of food-insecure children reside in households with a working adult, including 70 percent who have a full-time job. Notably, less than half of households with food-insecure children include an adult educated beyond high school. The report asserts that "job opportunities and wage rates for less educated workers are important factors affecting the food security of children."
This relationship between opportunity, income and hunger is not news to the Administration. The Obama/Biden campaign proposal (pdf) to tackle domestic hunger asserted:
- "The most effective way to eliminate childhood hunger and reduce hunger among adults is through a broad expansion of economic opportunity."
- "Barack Obama understands that poverty is the primary cause of hunger and has a comprehensive plan to reduce and alleviate poverty, including providing permanent tax relief for working families, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, raising the minimum wage, and providing affordable, accessible health insurance."
- "As President, Barack Obama will fight to end child hunger by 2015 through his anti-poverty plan, as well as through major commitments that build upon existing federal food assistance programs."
These same themes are noted by a range of anti-hunger organizations, including the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) which issued Ending Childhood Hunger by 2015: The Essential Strategies for Achieving the President's Goal (pdf). The seven strategies are:
- Restore economic growth and create jobs with better wages for lower-income workers.
- Raise the incomes of the lowest-income families.
- Strengthen the SNAP/Food Stamp Program.
- Strengthen Child Nutrition Programs.
- Engage the entire federal government in ending childhood hunger.
- Work with states, localities and nonprofits to expand and improve participation in federal nutrition programs.
- Make sure all families have convenient access to reasonably priced, healthful food.
Opportunity, income and hunger are deeply intertwined. Without the opportunity to increase their income, families will always need government help to cope with hunger. As Joel Berg, director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger has observed, "unless you significantly reduce poverty, you're going to have to keep pumping money into [federal programs] every year." Berg, along with Spotlight's own Tom Freedman, outlined the steps necessary to end childhood hunger in America in this report (pdf) for the Democratic Leadership Council.
Eliminating childhood hunger by 2015 is important and the Obama Administration is right to aim at a 2015 goal. However, a clear target is also vital to make significant progress in cutting poverty. On the campaign trail, Barack Obama pledged to set a target to cut poverty in half within a decade. The President should find an opportunity to add that broader pledge to his Administration's plate. Poverty isn't a side dish.