Better food access starts with better wages
“To end hunger, we have to think about how to lift people up, not just how to give people food,” says Martha Assefa of the Worcester Food Policy Council. The group is trying to end the cycle of poverty by advocating to increase the minimum wage.
Currently, the state minimum wage is $11 an hour. “Back in the day, you could make minimum wage and support a family—that’s not the case anymore,” says Martha. The minimum wage affects not only people trying to purchase food for their families but also people working in the food system, including at fast-food businesses, grocery stores, and farms.
The Council is promoting a minimum-wage increase in several ways. Together with the Worcester County Food Bank, it has joined with Raise Up Massachusetts on its Fight for $15 campaign, which advocates for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021. The Council has also collected signatures so that the measure could be added to the ballot.
The Council is also working at the local level with the Worcester Community Labor Coalition to support increasing the minimum wage. The Worcester City Council approved a resolution in May 2017 to endorse the statewide legislation. Now the city is conducting research on the effects of increasing the mini- mum wage to $15 an hour in municipal departments, including the schools.
The Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan points out that “For many consumers, local produce, and other foods can be more expensive (or perceived to be) than comparable conventionally sourced or processed grocery items. Low-in- come families and individuals have fewer dollars available for food purchases.” As a result, low-income families often rely on less expensive, highly-processed foods with added sugar and salt, increasing their risk of preventable dietary-related diseases, and increasing demand for public subsidy programs that pro- vide health services.
In addition, the Plan points out that food prices are already low in relation to other parts of the world and historical prices here in the U.S., in part because many farmworkers, retail and restaurant workers, drivers, and other key partici- pants in the food system earn less than a living wage. The recommended solution is not to make food less expensive, which would only burden these workers more, but to increase the buying power of consumers through higher wages.
The Worcester Food Policy Council is also advocating for an urban-agriculture ordinance, an effective SNAP program, federal child-nutrition programs, the Healthy Incentives Program, and increasing healthy-food in retail markets. Many of the strategies are based in the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan. This is a great resource, says Martha, because it means that “we are all pushing the same thing forward.”
Food Access, Security and Health - Action 1.2.1: Support the adoption of a living wage standard for Massachusetts workers, with exceptions for time-limited youth training on production farms and associated retail operations.