Give a Voice to the Working Poor, Call Congress This Holiday Season

We recently hired a gentleman in his 50s to work in our warehouse.  You are probably thinking that is something that happens fairly regularly, and you are correct in thinking that.  What made this hire so special is that the man we hired had not had regular work or a place of his own to live in for many years.  Now that he works for us, he has been able to get his own place, and he is very, very grateful.  We hired him after he worked for us as a temp for a while.  We were able to see first-hand how incredibly reliable and hardworking he is, so we hired him for our first available permanent position.

The sad fact is that if we had not known him as a temp, he would simply not have come on our radar.  If he had just applied within a pool of job seekers, we would not have selected him for an interview.  He just doesn’t have the education or experience of many of the other people looking to work for us.  And in passing him over, we would have missed out on a truly amazing employee, and he would have missed his chance for independence, self-reliance and restored self-esteem.  How sad that missed chance would have been for all of us!

Our new employee’s story of his inability to find regular work despite intense drive and motivation leads to reflection about what is going on with our economy.  People say that the recession is over, and unemployment rates have begun to drop.  But the national unemployment rate, stuck stubbornly high at over 7 percent, only tells part of the story.

It neglects the fact that low-wage workers are competing with higher-educated and better-trained workers for low-wage jobs. Mid-wage occupations constituted 60 percent of recession losses but account for only 22 percent of recovery growth. By contrast, low-wage jobs represented 21 percent of recession losses, but made up 58 percent of recovery growth.

It neglects the reality that many of those who have been able to find employment are working for less income than they were before the recession. Adjusted for inflation, the income of the bottom 40 percent actually fell six percent from 2009 to 2012. There are still more than three job seekers for every one position available. With so many skilled workers competing for low-skill jobs, wages are depressed.

Finally, it neglects the fact that those who are lucky enough to find a job may not be getting the hours they need. In addition to the 11.3 million individuals unemployed, an additional 7.9 million people who want to work are working part time because their hours have been cut back or they could not find full-time work.

These facts remind us why low-income households are always the last to recover after a recession; why unemployment among college graduates is 3.5 percent, but remains at 11.3 percent for those with less than a high school diploma.

The dark truth behind the unemployment numbers is that millions of families are still struggling to make ends meet. Millions of Americans are struggling just to put food on the table.

That is why it is so disturbing that Congress is considering deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the farm bill. The House bill would cut nearly $40 billion in food assistance, causing millions of SNAP households to see their benefits cut or lose benefits entirely – right after all SNAP participants just received a benefit cut in November. Equally baffling, the House proposal would increase participation barriers and time limits for unemployed adults – including families with children – at a time when jobs remain scarce.


In the aftermath of the recession, food banks continue to see elevated client demand, both from families who are hurting but make a little too much in income to qualify for SNAP, as well as families for whom SNAP benefits are inadequate to last them through the month. Increased need resulting from the recession has been coupled with declining food from The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), a federal commodity program that supplies 20 percent of the food distributed by our food bank.

We all agree that a decent job is the best solution to poverty and hunger, but right jobs remain hard to come by. We need more jobs and job-training opportunities to put struggling families on a path toward self-sufficiency. In the meantime, Congress has an opportunity to address the needs of families challenged to put food on the table and the food banks and pantries that serve them by passing a farm bill that protects SNAP and increases funding for TEFAP.

This holiday, in addition to volunteering and giving donations, there is another important way you can help needy families in our community. Tell our members of Congress to protect hunger-relief programs in the farm bill. Congress is expected to vote on a final farm bill before Christmas. The best gift we could make to needy families this holiday is to make sure food banks and SNAP have the resources alleviate hunger all year long.

Reach your representative or senator by calling the United States Capitol switchboard at(202) 224-3121.  You can also use these two website for online access:

Melody Wattenbarger is the President and CEO of Roadrunner Food Bank.


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