Improving access to a living wage can help end hunger | Expert column
By RUTH JONES NICHOLS FEB 10, 2020
The minimum wage debate has been at the forefront of both the public and private sectors. Initiatives aimed at a gradual increase from Virginia’s current $7.25 an hour federal minimum to $15 an hour have led to increased polarization across our great commonwealth.
In the wake of this “great debate,” the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore has been exploring the root causes of hunger and food insecurity, which have been identified as inadequate access to higher education, affordable housing, health care, financial literacy, and employment — one of the leading causes of food insecurity. Understanding the connection between employment, earned income, and food insecurity is essential to ending hunger.
When many think of the face of hunger and food insecurity, they typically think of the individual who is unemployed. However, the faces we see in our lines at food pantries and distribution sites are often those of individuals working every day to make ends meet and put food on the table for their families.
We see the single mom working two minimum wage jobs to provide her children with a hot meal; the veteran who has transitioned from the military working to support his family on $7.25 an hour; the college student working a part-time job but falling short on resources to purchase healthy meal options; and the still-working senior who has to make the difficult choice between purchasing medication or food. These faces that show up in our lines daily have directed our path toward a more holistic look at how we can effectively address hunger in our community.
The significant gap in the living wage and minimum wage is a major barrier to eliminating hunger in our community. The living wage calculation for Hampton Roads is cited as $13.50 for an adult without any dependents — nearly double the current federal or state minimum wage. It’s idealistic to expect an individual to attain true self-sufficiency with the current minimum wage.