March 16, 2018 | By Todd Post

Guest Commentary - Decent Work: The Most Sustainable Pathway Out of Poverty and Hunger

By Todd Post, senior researcher, writer, and editor with Bread for the World Institute
Decent work is critical to ending hunger by 2030. This is reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 8 aims to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.”
All 17 of the SDGs are interconnected, and hunger and food security are connected to decent work just as they are to health, gender, climate change, and other development issues. At Bread for the World Institute, we care deeply about decent work, so much so that our newest Hunger Report, scheduled for release April 10, is called The Jobs Challenge: Working to End Hunger by 2030.
Decent work does more than provide us with the means to feed ourselves and our children. Decent work is a source of dignity in our lives. Pope Francis has spoken on this many times. “There is no worse material poverty,” he has said, “than one that does not allow for earning one’s bread and deprives one of the dignity of work.”
The Jobs Challenge we refer to in the title of our report is global. Over the past half-century, nations around the world, from the richest to the poorest, have become much more integrated into a global economic system. This is a major reason for the extraordinary progress against hunger and poverty that we’ve seen over this time. But in developed countries, the system has mainly benefited people unequally, and in the United States, many communities have been left economically high and dry. This inequality fosters a zero-sum narrative, that prosperity in developing countries must come at the expense of workers in developed countries. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The zero-sum narrative is a threat to ending hunger by 2030 and to the other SDGs.
Globally, hundreds of millions of youth will be entering the workforce by 2030. The question is not just whether there will be enough decent work for them, but whether there will be enough work, period. Tired of watching their parents and grandparents toil in the fields, youth in Africa and Asia have abandoned rural areas in droves for anything they can do in urban areas that offers some promise. What they are finding presently is mostly low-wage, low-productivity jobs, much of it in the volatile informal sector.  In the best of times this may keep them occupied but not particularly well fed. The Arab Spring showed that a youth bulge squeezed by rising food prices is a recipe for civil strife.
Development partners need to pay closer attention to jobs in both rural and urban areas. The International Development Association (IDA), the arm of the World Bank that provides grants and concessional loans to the world’s lowest-income countries, is well aware of the global jobs challenge. On the Bank’s Jobs and Development blog, senior economist Thomas Farole wrote, “How to deliver more jobs to meet the demands of a growing youth population; how best to improve job quality, particularly for the clear majority of workers in IDA countries who struggle in subsistence-level self-employment and other forms of informal employment; and how to make jobs more inclusive to women, youth, and populations in remote and lagging regions. Jobs will increasingly become the focus and measure of what we do—it will be a critical outcome in its own right rather than simply an assumed derivative of growth.”  
Developed countries, too, have their own problems when it comes to providing quality work opportunities. In the United States, wage growth is stagnant, and many workers lack basic benefits: the United States remains the only high-income country without paid parental leave, and for the many low-wage workers who survive paycheck-to-paycheck, a lack of paid sick leave means they cannot afford to miss work when sick—even when they work in the food and restaurant industries.
As David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World and Bread for the World Institute, argues in the Hunger Report, “The very large youth population and rapid urbanization in developing countries could be a huge opportunity or a huge challenge. Young people need meaningful jobs that provide them with dignity and sufficient income to provide for their families. The United States can do much more to support low-income developing countries, including investing in social protection and rural development, and helping communities address the underlying drivers of conflict, such as hunger, poverty, and unemployment among youth.”


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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| By Roger Thurow

Our New Gordian Knot

Fifty years ago Dr. Norman Borlaug recieved the Nobel Peace Prize for cutting the "Goridan knot" of population and food production. Now the planet faces another seemingly intractable problem: how to nourish the planet while preserving the planet.