On Wednesday of this week the USDA releases its latest food insecurity numbers, and on Thursday, President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress about jobs. The press coverage will be unlikely to draw any connection between the two events, but it is essential for us to understand, act, and speak out on just how intimately these two issues are tied together.
Getting Americans back to work is a central ingredient to the long-term success of virtually every social program including the anti-hunger programs we champion. Record levels of poverty and unemployment make it extraordinarily difficult to reduce economic inequity and win battles to end hunger, ensure equal educational opportunities, and create a more just society. Those of us working toward those goals will come up short unless we take a larger and longer term view that includes economic growth and job creation as a priority. We must make our voices heard on those issues as surely as we will on the USDA hunger statistics.
The president’s jobs package is likely to be imperfect, and include compromises that reflect political reality. But it is critical to elevating the human catastrophe of millions of unemployed Americans as a priority on the national agenda. (As is typically the case, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities led by Share Our Strength board member Bob Greenstein, has an insightful analysis of the August jobs numbers @ http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3571 )
Until now the political will in Congress has been insufficient to achieve progress on jobs. It will remain so unless more of us speak out and specifically underscore the connection between our missions and the need for bold measures to address the jobs crisis. Part of our leadership responsibility at both Share Our Strength and Community Wealth Ventures is to encourage others in our sector to look beyond their specific silo, focus on the bigger picture, and raise their voices as well.
Nonprofit and advocacy organizations focused on human services need to reach out this week – to their supporters, donors, stakeholders and all of those they serve – and explain how and why concerted, bipartisan action on jobs is directly related to the mission of their organization.
In the case of our No Kid Hungry strategy, our challenge not only would be more manageable if more families had meaningful work and less need for public food assistance, but our efforts also can actually help create jobs. States have left more than $7 billion on the table in Washington because of the number of children and families who are eligible but not participating in school breakfast, summer meals, and the SNAP program. If that $7 billion were being spent locally to buy and deliver more food products it would create additional jobs at virtually every level of the supply chain. By itself it would not be a large enough number of jobs solve the unemployment crisis, but when there are as many American families suffering as there are today, every job counts and our efforts would be a net positive contribution to that solution.
It’s fairly obvious that when more Americans are working, they are less likely to need food assistance. But what’s less obvious is that enrolling more children in food programs as we do through our No Kid Hungry campaigns can also help create jobs. The national conversation this week and next will be focused almost exclusively on ideas to create jobs. If we want to be heard, we must find ways to talk about what we do in that context. And the large numbers of hungry children in America need us to be heard if they are to have a voice in that national conversation too.