While many families are buying all the extra fixings to make Thanksgiving dinner special, 79 percent of low-income households in Feeding America’s client base report “purchasing the cheapest food available, even if they knew it wasn’t the healthiest option, in an effort to provide enough food for their household.” We also know from Feeding America’s report, Hunger in America 2014, that food insecurity has been on the rise since the Great Recession: one in seven Americans rely on food banks to see them through. Viewed by race, the results are even more startling: One in four African Americans relies on a food bank; one in six Latinos. Meanwhile, some 45 million Americans rely on food stamps. It’s 2015, and hunger is still a huge problem in America. And it’s a problem inextricably linked to larger issues of economic hardship. In fact, many Americans who work face food insecurity, with studies finding that a growing share of food stamp recipients participate in the labor force. This is part of a broader story of the difficulties that low-wage workers face in making ends meet. Earlier this year, a study found that about 48 percent of home health care workers are on public assistance, as are 46 percent of child care workers and 52 percent of fast-food workers. Another big category of hungry people are older and disabled Americans on fixed incomes that fall short every month.
Scholars like Benjamin Friedman have demonstrated that economic growth helps drive any number of positive trends: improved human rights, better health, women’s empowerment, higher education attainment, and on and on.
Historically, though, explicit efforts to foster growth haven’t been all that high on the agenda of a philanthropic world that cares about all the things I just mentioned. In particular, funders haven’t tended to do a lot in the way of supporting entrepreneurs, whose new businesses create many of the new jobs that propel growth. Meanwhile, small business has been on the decline in the U.S. for the last decade, a trend that was greatly accelerated by the Great Recession, with new business creation plunging by 30 percent in the wake of the economic crash.
New coalitions and innovations seem to be springing up all over the country to address the challenges facing America’s workers, backed by a range of funders. Last week, we wrote about a big effort on jobs spearheaded by Howard Schultz and Starbucks. And yesterday we wrote about a workforce push in Newark that JPMorgan Chase is helping bankroll.
Youth unemployment is a national problem that is now squarely on the agenda of funders. Just the other day, we wrote about a new initiative spearhead by Starbucks and its CEO Howard Schultz to provide jobs and opportunities to 100,000 young people. We’ve also written about a range of other philanthropic efforts to bolster the work readiness of young people.
Two themes stand out in these initiatives: One, most look beyond the concrete skills of young Americans, or what jobs are available to them, to a deeper, more complex problem—the alienation of many young people from the mainstream world of work and the challenges they face in engaging with this world.
Attention to race keeps growing in the United States, and that’s true for a bunch of reasons. But, for sure, philanthropy has played a role in elevating race to the top of the national agenda.
Well before the events in Ferguson last year, a number of top foundations were already investing in new work to address racial inequities and empower leaders of color. Most notably, ten top foundations partnered with the White House in February 2014 to address the challenges facing young men of color. And nearly a year earlier, 26 foundations had come together in Chicago, pledging new work in this same area. As we’ve also reported, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation launched a big initiative on young men and boys of color, Forward Promise, in 2011. Looking even further back, the Open Society Foundations began its Campaign for Black Male Achievement in 2008.
The desire to be a journalist — to tell the stories that inspire feeling and change lives — usually kicks in fairly early in life. Many of us discover in high school that a source of great meaning and gratification comes from being able to communicate with others through writing or another form of media.
Which foundations support youth journalism in its many current incarnations, which now include blogging, videography, Youtubing and podcasting? Which foundations should grant seekers for youth turn to if they want to do the work of cultivating media and journalism for young minds?
Yesterday, we wrote about philanthropy’s major role in the Obama administration’s bid to regulate greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants through executive action. Well, here’s a similar story: As the administration unveils a tougher rule for overtime pay this week, foundations can justly claim some of the credit.
This has been a great month for the president, as many commentators have noted, but it’s also been a good one for progressive funders who seen several longstanding investments pay off.