by Jusleen Basra
At the core of WhyHunger’s mission to end hunger is the understanding that access to nutritious food is directly linked to racial justice, equity and the protection of workers’ rights. This includes the elimination of gender-based wage gaps, the inclusion of farmworkers in labor protection and other policy changes with workers in mind that lift people above the poverty line to a place where they can comfortably provide for their families and support their well-being. As the Biden Administration brings the option of raising the national minimum wage to the table, we are interested in how such a change could impact the well-being of low-income and marginalized groups across the country.
The latter half of 2020 tipped 8 million more Americans below the poverty line, including an estimated 2.4 million Black families. Agricultural workers faced layoffs and exposure to the coronavirus, while workers in grocery stores and other essential sectors faced a similar risks and struggled to receive fair compensation or hazard pay. Economic justice ensures that all working people – including women, LGBTQ folks, migrants, members of the BIPOC community, youth and others — earn wages that allow them to not just survive but thrive, with the support of policy changes that center the rights and dignity of people. More people earning a thriving wage means more Americans – of all groups – will have the tools to care for their well-being and access nutritious food & other resources. For more insight around this issue, take a look below at some of our recommendations for supportive reading material:Agricultural workers faced layoffs and exposure to the coronavirus while workers in grocery stores and other essential sectors faced a similar COVID-19 risk and struggled to receive fair compensation or hazard pay. Economic justice ensures that all working people – including women, migrants, members of the BIPOC community, youth and others — earn wages that allow them to not just survive but thrive, with the support of policy changes that keep the people in mind. More people earning a thriving wage means more Americans – of all groups – will have the tools to care for their well-being and access nutritious food & other resources. For more insight around this issue, take a look below at some of our recommendations for supportive reading material:
USA TODAY: What Was Left Out of Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Relief Bill
The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill, also known as President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, has officially been passed by The House. Despite the successful inclusion of a majority of Democratic provisions put forth, some crucial items, like the proposal for a $15 minimum wage, were left out. Furthermore, the bill now sees a smaller benefit to come for unemployment recipients and fewer Americans receiving stimulus payments. This article gives a more in depth look at the changes to the bill and how Americans will be impacted.
THE ATLANTIC: The Counterintuitive Workings of the Minimum Wage
The Biden Administration’s proposal for a $15 minimum wage raises concerns over the kind of effect that such a change would have on the economy – namely, losing jobs, forcing small businesses and local restaurants into closure, and causing inflation as businesses make up for the loss of profit by increasing product prices. This article also discusses the benefits of a higher minimum wage, arguing that it has the power to lift over a million people above the poverty line and create an economy that reflects our values, protects workers and promotes equity.
NY TIMES: ‘We Are Forgotten’: Grocery Workers Hope for Higher Pay and Vaccinations
Throughout the pandemic, grocery store workers have had no choice but to put themselves at risk of catching the virus in order to provide for their families and keep food stores running, often with little added compensation. Whether this compensation should come in the form of expediting food chain workers on the COVID-19 vaccine priority list or offering hazard pay, NY Times explores the staggering need for the protection of essential workers.
COMMON DREAMS: Ending the Subminimum Tipped Wage Will Lift Up Black Workers and Benefit All Workers
Advocate Tanya Wallace-Gobern says that a living wage bill is another coin in the jar for racial justice. This article explores how BIPOC workers would receive just and reasonable compensation with an increase in minimum wage, lifting other marginalized groups out of poverty alongside them. It would also denounce practices steeped in discrimination like tipping, which favor white workers at the expense of Black workers.
DEMOCRACY NOW: The Shecession: Women Face Staggering Job & Income Losses Amid the Pandemic’s Economic Crisis
Researcher C. Nicole Mason calls the recent economic crisis the “shecession,” referring to its disproportionate effect on women. Due to overrepresentation in critical sectors that were hit the hardest by the pandemic (education, hospitality/service, healthcare, etc.) coupled with at-home caregiving responsibilities, women lost more jobs and faced economic insecurity worse than men during the health crisis.
CIVIL EATS: Vermont Plans to Send Cash to Immigrant Farmworkers Left Out of Stimulus
Unemployment for agricultural workers has increased since the pandemic and undocumented immigrants who make up about half of the country’s farmworkers were left out of the first national COVID-19 stimulus package. Some states provided additional aid to migrant workers, including Vermont, recognizing them as essential to keeping our food system afloat.
FOOD TANK: Supply Chain Transparency Can Support a Stronger Food System
Understanding both the pitfalls and successes of various stages of the food supply chain allows us to understand where policy changes can be made to reduce food waste and support workers along all sectors of food (agricultural, manufacturing, wholesale, etc.). It is argued that the food supply chain should not be considered distinct from activism and policymaking.
Supporting community- and worker-led organizations is our best bet for protecting our essential workers. Check out and support these organizations doing incredible work at the intersection of food and economic justice: Black Farmer Fund, Food Chain Workers Alliance, Poor People’s Campaign, ROC United, US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, United Frontline Table.