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Behind America’s hungry: low wages

Sally Herships Dec 23, 2015
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Imagine you have a paycheck that just won’t cover all your expenses. 

“You can’t afford not to pay your rent, or you get evicted. You can’t afford not to pay your electric bill, or your lights get cut off,” said Nancy Roman, president and CEO of the Capital Area Food bank in the District of Columbia.

“But you actually can cut out a meal,” she said. “You actually can decide you can’t afford vegetables, so you’re going to feed your family a plate of buttered noodles again.” 

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has just released a new report on hunger and homelessness, and almost 70 percent of the cities surveyed said requests for emergency food assistance are up from last year. The leading cause of hunger, according to those surveyed, is low wages.

Working from the Department of Agriculture’s thriftiest estimate, it costs about $40 a week to feed one adult. That means if you earn $7.25 an hour, or federal minimum wage, that’s almost a day’s work going for food.  

Eric Cooper, president and CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank, said while hunger is a highly complex issue, “ultimately the ability of the individual to earn a livable wage is critical.” But sometimes earning a livable wage can lead to a Catch-22.  “For that to happen they might need to be educated,” he said. And more education can cost more money.