Why Wages Matter in the Fight to End Hunger

In this guest post, Christine Binder of WhyHunger‘s National Hunger Clearinghouse reflects on thinking beyond charity this holiday season.

The holiday season is a time of giving. More now than any other time of year, people feel compelled to donate their time and resources to organizations that feed the hungry. With hunger at the forefront of people’s minds this season, we have a real opportunity to further the conversation and engage people in advocacy addressing the root causes of both hunger and poverty to create lasting change.

According toMIT professor Amy Glasmeier, “At the core, hunger is the result of employment instability and the lack of an adequate minimum wage. If an employer is allowed to pay a person a wage that essentially does not lift them out of poverty, then the real culprit is failed federal policy.” The annual income (at 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year) of someone earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is $15,080, which, for a family of two, falls just below the federal poverty line. Nearly 16 percent of Americans fall at or below the poverty line. Many retail and food service employers systematically manipulate worker schedules in order to deny them the benefits of full term employment.

Last month, workers from the three largest employers of low-income workers in the U.S. (Walmart, Yum! Brands and McDonald’s) went on strike. On Black Friday, hundreds, if not thousands, of Walmart employees walked off the job and joined protests in 100 cities across 46 states to raise their voices against low pay, lack of benefits and retribution against workers who attempt to organize. Six days later, fast food workers in New York City went on strike for union recognition and a raise in pay. Campaigns for paid sick days for restaurant workers are also gaining momentum.

Civic engagement is critical in building support for a living wage, which would allow workers to maintain a decent standard of living (adequate food, shelter and other necessities) without having to resort to public assistance. On Election Day, the citizens of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and San Jose, California, voted to increase the minimum wage, and voters in Long Beach, California, instituted a living wage for hotel workers. Before Thanksgiving, anti-hunger advocates in New York pushed for minimum wage increases, as the State Senate there may vote on the issue in the lame duck session. And on December 17th, the New Jersey Assembly passed a measure to start a process to increase that state’s minimum wage by one dollar.

These recent wins are a promising sign. However, until a living wage is instituted nationwide for all workers, many of the working poor must continue to rely on SNAP (formally known as food stamps). Food stamps do not “end hunger,” but they are essential in helping low-income workers make ends meet. Any cutbacks in the program would make it much harder for SNAP recipients to feed their families. As the fiscal cliff approaches, it is important that we advocate to protect SNAP and those who rely on it, but perhaps the most important thing we can advocate for in a time when the ranks of the working poor exceed 47 million is a national living wage that keeps up with inflation. If ending hunger is your mission, embracing higher wages for the working poor might just be your game.


Related Stories:

Food Sovereignty the Real Prize

Food Stamps Save America from Hunger

Food Justice Is Racial Justice



Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Alicia Guevara
Alicia Guevara4 years ago

I agree with Cate S. "Every person in a country as wealthy as the US deserves a living wage".

Jessica Sutton
Past Member 4 years ago

I was happy to wake up this morning, go to NPR.org and the second thing I hear that 10 states are raising minimum wage. They aren't raising it by a lot but at least it's progress.

I heard one very good argument against employers complaining about having to pay their workers more... one employer noted that he had saved money by increasing wages because the turnover rate became so much lower.

It's a pretty clear sign when people who are employed still need and qualify for welfare to live day-to-day that the distribution of wealth in this country is completely flawed.

I think the only people against an increase are those who haven't lived in the "real world". Do they know how much rent is, even in a neighborhood with high crime levels?? I'm guessing that they don't...

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill4 years ago

It's good jobs that matter not welfare and food stamps. This president has not addressed the real reason for hunger in this country. Everything he has done has had the opposite effect. Companies trying to pay for higher taxes and ObamaCare are having to cut hours or cut jobs.

Heidi Aubrey
Heidi Aubrey4 years ago

Brandon V.(who is nomadic-lives in his car and various family members, and claims its a good way of life)

I might be one of the "sedentary" folk, but I have a toilet, shower and kitchen, and bed year round.

a             y m.
g d c4 years ago


Bill and Katie D.

Many retail, restaurants limit the hours and that causes them to not be allowed to be eligible for benefits like insurance. Many of these people are actually qualified for welfare. The tapayers pay this you and I. But these people that do work at these companies that limit their hours do want to work more hours. They are turned down for more hours even when they ask for more hours, and the managers receive bonuses for doing this. They are paid minimum wage in restaurants and rely on the tips to help them, many do not even understand if they take care of the customers they could receive more tips. By cutting the hours the people are sometimes over worked and expected to cover for other workers that should be there. For instance given too many tables to take care of. Giving very poor service. But the company does this! It's the managers that run the place, tells me not to go back. If they can't treat the people (the workers)right I don't patronize them. One time I had been in a restaurant and were seated close to the door to the kitchen. We heard loud talk of a woeker coming in the get his paycheck and he was told he had none had that he had to prove he worked before he got one. Now I understand he was told he did not work and didn't have one coming?? We never went back. We shouldn't have heard this and to think the place would keep his pay!!

C. R.
Carole R4 years ago


Ann W.
Ann W4 years ago

Many twenty somethings ould benefit from trying to live on an hourly wage. It's a wake up call.

Marianne B.
Marianne B4 years ago

I have worked at companies that would only hire part timer's so they did not have to pay any health benefits, or any other benefits. Good for them, but bad for us .It's hard to find a full time job with full benefits.