Serving the Hungry - Fall 2015 Newsletter

From Paycheck to Pantry: Hunger in Working America

New Report by Feeding America® and Oxfam America® Uncovers the Hardships Many Working Families Face to Put Enough Food on the Table

FamilyMore than half (54%) of all households seeking charitable food assistance from the Feeding America network include at least one member who had employment in the past year, according to a study released by Feeding America® and Oxfam America®. All told, approximately 25 million people live in these households. The study details the challenges many working Americans face in providing enough food for their households. Feeding America is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization and Oxfam America is an international relief and development organization.

Recent economic growth has resulted in improved circumstances for some individuals and their
families, but its benefits have excluded many others, including the more than 17 million American households facing food insecurity. Many of these households have working members whose wages are too low to support themselves and their families.

The report seeks to further understand the circumstances of and struggles experienced by working households that seek charitable food assistance from the Feeding America network, including Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank, through additional analysis of data collected for Hunger in America 2014. Many households, even those with an employed member, report
minimal incomes and challenges meeting their basic needs.

Family“This more extensive dive into the struggles facing our working clients helps illustrate that even those who can secure some employment are making difficult choices, between paying for rent, utilities, healthcare and enough food for their families,” said Bob Aiken, CEO of Feeding America. “We hope this study will provide a clearer picture of some of the obstacles facing so many of the 46.5 million Americans we serve each year.”

“It’s shocking to see how many Americans go to work every day but then must still stand in line at the food pantry to feed their family,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America. “Despite having full-time or even multiple jobs, the money they bring home is not enough to regularly put food on the table.”

From Paycheck to Pantry: Hunger in Working America documents the continued struggles low income American families face in accessing adequate food and nutrition. A combination of limited income, underemployment and competing household expenses exhibit the need for viable support systems for these families. To read more about From Paycheck to Pantry: Hunger in Working America, go to

Key statistics from the report include:

  • In 43% of working client households (approximately 3.6 million households), at least one member worked full-time in the past year; yet these households still needed to turn to the charitable sector for support. Many others report challenges in securing full-time, permanent positions, with more than half (57%) of working client households having part-time jobs.
  • The majority of client households with employment subsist on minimal incomes, with 89% reporting an annual household income of $30,000 or less.
  • Two out of three (69%) working client households live at or below the federal poverty line (in 2013, $23,550 for a family of four, $19,530 for a family of three).
  • Eighty-six percent of client households with employment face food insecurity.
  • One in two (50%) working client households receives federal benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program), in addition to seeking assistance from the charitable sector, as their means of accessing adequate food.
  • The vast majority (94%) of working client households have children participating in the National School Lunch Program (also known as the Free & Reduced Lunch Program).

A Word from the Agency Director

Dear Friends,

As the middle class in America continues to be slowly wiped out, the number of working poor continues to increase. Today, nearly one out of every three families in the United States is considered to be “low income.” Millions of American families are finding they can barely make it from month to month even with both parents working as hard as they possibly can. American workers from coast to coast are having their wages decreased at a time when it seems like the cost of virtually every monthly bill is going up. Unfortunately, there is every indication that things are only going to get worse and the average American families are going to be financially squeezed even more in the months and years to come.

Inside this issue you will find further evidence, presented from the study released by Feeding America® and Oxfam America® that further details the decline many families are feeling within our communities. It is important for us to better understand what is going on in our country. As we’ve reported previously, 1 in 6 individuals are food insecure and even more alarming, 1 in 4 children are food insecure. This is simply unacceptable!

  • More than half of the U.S. labor force (58%) has “suffered a spell of unemployment, a cut in pay, a reduction in hours or have become involuntary part-time workers” since the recession began in December 2007.

Unfortunately, things are not going to be getting any better for the working poor. In the new “one world economy,” millions upon millions of American workers now find they have to compete for work with laborers on the other side of the globe who are willing to work for lower wages. This approach has caused millions of jobs to leave the United States and is forcing wages to decrease.

Millions of Americans have now found they are making substantially less than they used to. If that has happened to you, there is no comfort in knowing you are not alone. And, American workers are not just competing with each other anymore – now there is the constant threat that jobs could just be sent overseas.

As wages are forced down, a record number of working Americans are finding themselves forced to turn to SNAP benefits (formally food stamps) and to other government, anti-poverty programs. Millions of Americans have been forced to take part-time jobs in order to supplement their incomes, while others have been forced to take part-time jobs because that is
all they can find.

This is all part of a long-term trend. The numbers don’t lie. Nearly every other segment of the population is getting poorer but each one of us can make a difference. Some have the resources to provide financial support, others have talents which they can share as a committed volunteer, and all of us can pray. Won’t you partner with us to provide hope for the working poor in our communities?

God bless you,

John C. Etling

How Bad Are Things Really for America’s Working Poor?

BoyBy Diandre Malone

During the great recession, unemployment rates reached their highest levels in more than 25 years, drawing attention to the millions of Americans who lost their jobs during the economic downturn. But there is another—mostly untold—story in the federal employment statistics. The working poor are working people whose incomes fall below a given poverty line. Some families with both parents working still live in poverty. While poverty may be associated with joblessness, some work multiple
jobs; many do not have the money to pay for necessities.

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that in 2009, there were more than 10 million low-income working families in the United States. Between 2007 and 2009, the share of working families who are low-income—earning less than 200% of the official poverty threshold—increased from 28 to 30 percent. This now means that nearly 1 in 3 working families in the United States, despite their hard work, are struggling to meet basic needs. The plight of these families now challenges a fundamental assumption that in America, work pays. (

Often times, it is the untold story, of countless of single parents who bear the sole responsibility of taking care of their children. Having been raised in a working poor family, I can attest to the struggles. I see it every day at work and in life. I asked for individuals to send me their stories of struggling in day-to-day life. One in particular caught my attention:

Sometimes we look at our life and circumstances and wonder how we ever got to where we are. Growing up, we didn’t have a lot, but we didn’t know it. I told myself that when I got older and living on my own, my life was going to be different. I wanted to travel across America and the world and have a nice car. As a single person, I did get to do a few things, but when I started a family and then became a single parent, life’s struggles became a smack in the face. My son’s father quit his job to get out of paying child support leaving me to do it all on my own. I was told more times than I care to count that I didn’t qualify for government assistance. Struggle doesn’t even begin to describe it. It is a ”nightmare.” It has been the hardest life I could ever imagine. The stress surviving from day-to-day led to countless tears of anguish and pain. I worked 8-10 hours daily, sometimes more. Salary increases were and are never enough to help counteract the constant rise in the cost of living. Finding money to take care of the rent, car loan, insurance, doctors’ bills, medicine, food and utilities has been nonexistent. Robbing from Paul to pay Peter is an everyday reality. There is a constant fear of losing what little you have. The tears are real, the fear is real and the struggle is real and constant.

This story is not unique in communities across our country. Millions of low-wage earners are barely scraping by from week to week, even though they average nearly 40 hours of work per week, many at more than one job. They worry about how to pay the rent and put food on the table, and wonder what will happen if something goes wrong – perhaps a family member falls ill or if they lose hours at work. Not earning enough to sustain their families, many workers find themselves going into debt—taking loans from family or friends, using credit cards, selling their belongings at pawn shops or taking out payday loans. This debt stops people from getting ahead, let alone investing in education or retirement.

Providing food is one way we can create hope for a brighter future for these families.

Need Help Finding Food?

If you need help finding food or know someone who does, call the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479). The Hunger Hotline is available Monday – Friday from 9am – 6pm. All calls are free and confidential. Help someone you know receive the nutrition they need to remain healthy and productive.

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