Tara makes just over $2,000 a month. She has several thousand dollars in medical debt, and she is trying her best to make monthly payments so the bills won’t go to collections. However, these payments coupled with the rest of her expenses—rent, car, utilities—leave her with very little left to pay for food. If she didn’t have access to a food pantry, Tara said she would not be able to eat.

Food insecurity is the lack of access, at times, to enough food to meet all household members’ nutritional needs. And it’s often invisible to those who aren’t experiencing it. You may never know that one of your employees is skipping meals at home because he/she lacks the money or resources to maintain an adequate diet every day. But, just because you can’t see it does not mean it’s uncommon. In 2017, more than 15 million households in the United States were food insecure at some point during the year. Ten percent of Colorado households were food insecure.

WorkLife Partnership saw a significant spike in Q4 2018 and Q1 2019 in the number of employees reporting the inability to afford food for themselves or their families. And our aggregate data also shows that the inability to afford adequate nutrition is the second most reported challenge by employees we serve. 

Number of WorkLife clients reporting inability to afford food by quarter since 2015. 

Top six challenges reported by WorkLife clients (since January 1, 2015).

Causes of Food Insecurity 
Just as in Tara’s case, many workers face challenges—like lower-wages and competing living expenses—that inhibit their ability to adequately feed themselves. Individuals are more likely to pay for larger, fixed expenses first before buying groceries, and as the money to buy food dwindles, the risk of food insecurity increases. In 2016, more than 30% of low-income households nationwide could not access food, compared to the national average of 12%. While the majority of these households meet the income requirements for government assistance programs, 35% of Coloradans who are food insecure do not—despite still living paycheck-to-paycheck. 

The Heath and Business Impact 
The combination of stress and poor nutrition associated with food insecurity can cause serious health conditions or exacerbate pre-existing ones. Even marginal food insecurity is associated with some of the most costly health issues in the United States. And, once someone is in poor health, they are more likely to miss work or be distracted on the job. Poor health costs U.S. employers $530B (and 1.4B workdays) annually due to employee absences and low job performance. Child food insecurity can also lead to greater absenteeism, as children’s sick days are linked to parent-employee absences.

How WorkLife Can Help
While some employers offer their employees educational programs on nutrition, many working families feel that having access to free food programs ensures they have enough to eat. WorkLife can connect workers to food banks near where they live and work, in addition to providing grocery store gift cards so they can access food in emergency situations. In the last year, WorkLife has provided more than $18,000 to workers in resources and gift cards so they can access food. WorkLife can also support workers by helping them manage a household budget. That way, they are able to find ways to cut back on certain expenses so they don’t have to skimp on food. 

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