Hunger is a Racial Equity Issue

April 3, 2018 | 10:57am

People of any color, ethnicity, or demographic background can experience food insecurity. Some groups, however, are more vulnerable than others. According to the USDA, 22.5% of African American households and 18.5% of Hispanic households are food insecure, both of which are higher than the national average of 12.3%. Why are minorities predominately the populations that are affected by hunger? Issues regarding poverty, government programs, and education cause minorities to be victims of food insecurity rather the majority. Additionally, the issues that will be acknowledged in this post all revolve around the idea that equality for all is not truly fulfilled within our society. The relationship between minorities and hunger is evident.

Many people suffer from hunger because, after paying for rent and utilities, they cannot afford food for their families. Despite the gains that have been made since the civil rights movement, the sad truth is that minorities still make up the majority of the low-wage workforce. The gap between wages of black, Hispanic, and white workers continues to expand. In 2015 the hourly wage for white men was $21 while Hispanics earned $14, and blacks $15 per hour. The case is the same for women; Hispanic women earn the lowest hourly wage of $12, black women received $13, and white women $17. While there have been laws implemented to forbid discrimination in relation to any aspect of employment, there are hardworking people who are still denied an equal opportunity. About 21% of blacks and 16% of Hispanics say they have been discriminated against in relation to hiring, pay, or promotion because of their race or ethnicity. How will the minority populations become food secure if they are unable to find jobs, or earn an income that is comparable to others?

The wealth gap plays a huge role in creating food insecurity. Wealth is unequally distributed by race. The average wealth of white families is seven times higher than that of black families. Systemic racism reinforces the wealth gap between minorities and whites and is expressed through social and political institutions. Minorities do not have access to sufficient wages, reliable jobs, and have fewer assets than whites. Debt and savings go hand in hand with wealth, and many colored households do not have much to fall back on. In 2016, the average white family’s liquid retirement savings was $157,884, while the averages of both Hispanic and black families combined was $53,793. Lower income families invest less money in retirement plans because most of their income is spent on cost of living expenses. Families utilize their wealth not only to pay bills but also to build security for the future.

Nearly 45.5 million people rely on government programs, like SNAP, to help make ends meet. In order to be eligible for SNAP, however, there are certain requirements that one must meet.  SNAP benefits average about $1.40 per each person’s meal, while each household received $254. These benefits do not last for long; after a few trips to the supermarket, the aid is gone. The government sets an amount that determines whether families are considered poverty-stricken. According to Whyhunger, “2017 federal guidelines set the poverty rate at $24,600 for a family of four, but depending on a family’s specific city and state of residence, the actual minimum amount required to raise a family could be two or three times that.” While the aid provides some stability, it is inadequate. Families are often stuck choosing between paying for food and other expenses like utility bills or rent.

It is important to point out that although the programs provide assistance, the families still cannot afford to eat nutritious food. Many of the families utilizing these federal programs live in what is referred to as a “food desert,” an area where people do not have access to affordable and nutritious food. The American Civil Liberties Union notes that, “African American neighborhoods had access to half as many chain supermarkets as white neighborhoods; Hispanic neighborhoods had access to a third as many.” The stores that are in their neighborhoods typically offer more packaged and “junk food” rather than healthy, fresh options. The minority families relying on these government programs, despite the aid that they are receiving, still remain vulnerable to food insecurity.

Additionally, the school systems and education that children receive is directly related to hunger. UNESCO points out that, “education provides skills that boost employment opportunities and incomes while helping to protect people from socio-economic vulnerabilities.” In wealthier neighborhoods, the school systems are better funded, which directly relates to the quality of the learning environment that the students will be exposed to. As The Alliance to End Hunger points out, “Schools with 90% white students spend $733 more per student than schools with 90% or more students of color.”

Poor school systems also don’t provide the same quality of school lunches. According to the Bread for the World Institute, schools in lower-income neighborhoods cannot keep up with the costs of maintaining staff for the cafeteria or afford to purchase healthier food options. These students are eating reheated meals while students from more affluent neighborhoods are enjoying healthy meals. Depending on the status of the neighborhood, the school system either sets the students up for success or a life of poverty and hunger.

Academic performance is also related to hunger. Poor nutrition among children will negatively impact their ability to learn. At a very young age, children are encouraged to eat a meal and get a sufficient amount of sleep before an exam. For children of minority families, this may not be an easy task. Studies show that children who suffer from food insecurity are more likely to have lower test scores, repeat a grade, be tardy, and have more absences. Schools set the foundation for children at a young age; it is very difficult to break the cycle of poverty when children are set up to fail at an early point in their life.

It should be obvious that food insecurity is a racial equity issue. A cycle of deprivation prevents minority families from achieving economic success, as is evidenced by the yawning wage and wealth gaps. It is important for this issue to be acknowledged so we can address the root causes of the problem.

Let work together to make a positive impact in your community. Visit our Take Action page to learn more about the ways you can get involved.