The past half-decade has been a challenging one for the national economy. Slowly but surely, that is now changing. As the nation continues to get back on its financial feet, this brings new opportunity but greater responsibility for maximizing social good and ending childhood hunger.
The signs are positive. During the holidays the Commerce Department reported the economy grew last quarter at its fastest rate in a decade. Economic output rose 5 percent over the summer. Business investment and consumer spending increased. Unemployment is steadily falling.
Hunger during a recession is tragic. During periods of economic growth, however, hunger is inexcusable. It represents a failure of our institutions and leadership, and a betrayal of the people they serve.
A growing economy makes our work both easier and harder, in these ways:
As the economy improves, there is more funding to support philanthropic missions. At the same time, however, problems like hunger and poverty become more invisible. During recession and recovery, there is increased attention to those who are struggling; when the economy starts to grow again, news coverage shifts to those making and spending new fortunes. Hunger is not top of mind.
Yet even in periods of economic growth, millions of Americans are left behind. The growing economy often does not reach them. This creates even greater responsibility during the good times to make sure America's blessings are shared by all.
There never seems to be a good time to act boldly on poverty in America. When the economy struggles, opponents of support for the poor ask, "How are we going to pay for this?" When the economy booms nobody wants to be distracted by negative news about poverty. That makes it even more important for people to remain strong in their efforts to affect change. In his Christmas card this year, Rep. Jim McGovern, a great anti-hunger champion, quotes El Salvador's assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero: "Those who have a voice must speak for the voiceless." Likewise, those with strengths must share theirs, and create vehicles for others to share their strength as well.
A growing economy is a whole new ballgame. In 2015, for example, we'll solidify No Kid Hungry's first phase: compelling proof of concept in key states where we've made substantial investment, plus inspiring results in other parts of the country. We will lay the foundation for going from proof to scale between 2016-2020.
But because economic growth will not be even or equal, our fight is not just against hunger, but also economic injustice. Economic growth helps build a strong nation, but we can't have a strong America with weak kids. We must not only be the voice for school breakfast and summer meals, we must be the voice that says we won't allow bureaucracy, politics or indifference to stand between a hungry child and a healthy meal.
This is our responsibility in the new year. Make every day count.
About Share Our Strength
No child should go hungry in America, but 1 in 5 kids will face hunger this year. Using proven, practical solutions, No Kid Hungry is ending childhood hunger today by ensuring that kids start the day with a nutritious breakfast and families learn the skills they need to shop and cook on a budget. When we all work together, we can make sure kids get the healthy food they need. No Kid Hungry is a campaign of national anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength. Join us at NoKidHungry.org.