Derek, a single parent with three children, works in security for the transit system in St. Louis, where he and his children reside. Despite working full-time, Derek has faced considerable challenges in providing food for his family and affording their other living expenses, often making tradeoffs to ensure his children have enough to eat. By visiting a local pantry for support during difficult financial times, Derek is able to supplement his limited income. “I work nights so I can be there for my kids during the day. You know, even though I’m working and doing well, I still always come up short – between paying for clothes, insurance, school supplies. Things get expensive…There came a point when I knew I had to ask for help – that I could not do this all on my own.”
Real Story: 2014 Feeding America, in partnership with Oxfam America, published From Paycheck to Pantry: Hunger in Working America.

Food insecurity is defined as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle. In 2020, an estimated 1 in 8 Americans were food insecure, equating to over 38 million Americans, including almost 12 million children. This means at some point during the year, these households were unable to find food, or unsure of when their next meal would be. Chances are one of your employees could be a part of this statistic without you knowing.

“Starvation wage”

Public policy and politicians have labeled minimum wage as “starvation wage.” There is a correlation between minimum wage and consumer nutrition. This research article found that an increase in minimum wage resulted in an increase in calories purchased. Research findings also show that the least healthy households (determined by past purchases) buy more healthy foods in response to rising minimum wages.

These are alarming findings as many workforces are experiencing financial insecurity. As an example, 57 percent of the workers WorkLife surveyed across industries last year said that they would be unable to afford an emergency expense of $300 or more. Individuals are more likely to pay for fixed expenses first before buying food, and as the money to buy groceries declines, the risk of food insecurity increases. 

Hunger in working America

Limited hours on the job, employment status change, and other competing household expenses make affording food challenging for working households. In a pre-pandemic study from Feeding America, nearly nine out of 10(89 percent) working households reported an annual household income of $30,000 or less. Additionally, more than half of working households reported part-time employment of 30 hours or less per week. Many Americans must rely on charitable food assistance to support their household budgets. Comprehensive federal food assistance programs also play an important part in hunger-relief efforts. 

Food insecurity poses an invisible challenge for employers because it impacts the health of their employees as well as workplace productivity. In order to be healthy and productive at work, access to safe, nutritious food is a necessity. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and other health conditions can occur as a result of food insecurity. Employees in poor health are more likely to miss and be distracted at work. Time that is lost when employees are absent or not fully productive comes at a cost. Below is a great example evident of this. It uses The Cost of Food Insecurity (CFI) calculator developed by The HSM Group, Ltd.  to help quantify food insecurity and its cost.

Chart: 2017 An Invisible Problem: Food Insecurity by

How WorkLife can help

Last year, WorkLife provided over 400 food and nutrition services to the workers we served. Already this year, 81 employees across our employer network have reached out with food and nutrition concerns.

WorkLife Partnership Resource Navigators can help connect your employees to local food assistance programs near where they live and work so they can access food in emergency situations. Navigators can also help your employees with budgeting and prioritizing expenses so they are able to allocate enough for food costs. For example, imagine an employee contacts a Navigator and is afraid that they can’t afford groceries that week. We might connect them to a food bank, child hunger programs, or provide a gift card to the grocery store, or we might instead help them get a utility bill paid, freeing up money for groceries and resolving a stressful overdue bill.

Questions on how WorkLife can help your employees access resources for food?