Creating Good Food Jobs for New York City-
New York City faces no more urgent task than creating new jobs that can reduce unemployment, help people move out of poverty, and assist the city in recovering from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Can food jobs play a role in this task? Can creating new food jobs also help the city to reduce food insecurity, hunger and diet-related diseases such as diabetes?
Several recent developments illustrate the opportunities and challenges of creating good food jobs. On Thursday, August 29, 2013 fast-food workers in 60 cities participated in their second strike of the summer and the third since 2012. Demanding higher wages and the right to unionize, these workers have brought to the national stage the plight of low wage workers in the food sector. Improving pay and working conditions for New York and the nation’s fast food workers can improve health in several important ways (see box below ) but it does not by itself address fast food’s contributions to the nation’s epidemics of obesity, diabetes and food insecurity.
Some Fast Food Facts
To address that task, the NYC Center of Food Policy recently released a new report called Jobs for a Healthier Diet and a Stronger Economy: Opportunities for Creating New Good Food Jobs In New York City. The report calls on the next Mayor of New York City to bring together city agencies, employers, workforce development programs and others to create 10,000 new good food jobs in New York City by 2020. The report defines “good foods jobs” as jobs that make healthier food more accessible to all New Yorkers, pay a living wage, offer safe working conditions, and promote sustainable economic development.
Throughout New York City dozens of programs, 11 of which are described in the report, demonstrate that it is possible to improve pay and working conditions for food workers who can in turn make healthy food more available and affordable. As yet, however, most do not operate at a scale where they can fully realize their potential for economic development and improved nutritional health.
New York City’s food sector employs 326,000 workers and had a growth rate of 33% in the last decade. Several public and private funding streams support workforce development in food services. As a sector that provides many entry-level opportunities for low- and moderate-skilled workers, it is an important target for new job creation. Those seeking food sector jobs include many of those hard hit by the 2008 recession: workers with limited education, recent immigrants, and entrepreneurs with high ambitions but little capital. To date, though, many of the jobs in this sector are low-paying, lack benefits, and expose workers to unsafe conditions. Many of these jobs also involve the production of the food most associated with obesity and diet-related conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, two leading causes of premature deaths and heath care costs in New York City.
To make progress towards reaching the goal of 10,000 new jobs by 2020, the report identifies six strategies that could each produce at least 1,000 jobs. Read the report here.
The NYC Food Policy Center will host a Forum on Growing Good Food Jobs in New York City at the CUNY School of Public Health: 2180 Third Avenue at 119th Street, room 115AB, date TBD.
Nicholas Freudenberg is Faculty Co-director of the Food Policy Center and Distinguished Professor of Public Health at Hunter College and the CUNY School of Public Health.
Ashley Rafalow is Administrative and Communications Coordinator at the Food Policy Center.