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Improving Food Security for Seasonal Workers



Seasonal workers help businesses thrive during their busiest times of the year, and there may be more temp workers out there than you’d think. Seasonal workers are filling roles in a variety of industries including the auto industry, holiday season retail, and food production (such as farm workers hired during peak crop-picking season, or bakery team members hired to assist with holiday orders). Even in the world of academia, professors with advanced degrees are sometimes hired as temp workers. 

Recent data indicates that there are more than 3 million jobs in the temporary help industry. Whereas some people may prefer the flexibility of a temp job, or take on a role simply to make some extra cash, many workers pursue a temp position in the hopes that it will lead to permanent employment. Unfortunately, the reality is that temp workers are often prone to economic hardships, including food security issues. Let’s explore why seasonal workers are finding it a challenge to put food on the table on a daily basis, and discuss a few of the things that others can do to help.   

Causes of food insecurity among seasonal workers 

With the flexibility to hire extra help when they need it and cut employee costs when they don’t, a temporary workforce is often a good deal for businesses. However, temp jobs can leave the employees themselves feeling undervalued and underpaid. They may also feel that they have little leverage to transition to a permanent position or negotiate their salary—often resulting in a struggle to make ends meet and a low level of food security. 

Temp workers sometimes spend years of their life working with the same company, working side by side with permanent employees—only they lack the same benefits. And although federal law dictates that seasonal employees must be paid at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked, as well as overtime pay for all hours worked beyond 40 hours in a single workweek, temp workers often receive lower pay, less job security, little time off, and little ability to participate in profit sharing and other perks that permanent employees enjoy as options. All of these factors can contribute to food insecurity. 

To look at an example in one industry, agricultural producers rely heavily on seasonal workers to plant, cultivate, harvest, and pack fruits, vegetables, and nuts. This manual labor is vital for the farmers who produce the high-quality food that consumers expect, and although it can be a physically demanding job, data shows that the average individual farmworker’s annual income ranges from $12,500 to $14,999. The same research found that 43 percent of farmworkers said that they or someone in their household had used public assistance within the past two years. Therefore, programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) are vital lifelines to seasonal workers, including those working in the agricultural industry. 

How we can help increase food security among seasonal workers 

Below are several ways that you can help improve food security for seasonal workers:

Get involved with nonprofit hunger relief efforts 

There are nonprofits in your community and across America that are working to reduce hunger, and are relied upon by seasonal workers who struggle to make ends meet. A few ways that you can support a hunger-relief organization in your area include:

Volunteering your time 

From sorting canned goods to lending a hand at a fundraising event, there are often a number of volunteer responsibilities that you can choose from.

Making a financial contribution 

A donation of any amount helps in the fight to reduce hunger. At Feeding Westchester, every $1 you donate helps to provide four meals for children, families, and seniors struggling with hunger in our community.

Starting a food drive 

Hosting a food drive at your place of work, school, house of worship, or other community center is a great way to not only give back yourself, but to get others in your life involved in helping those in need as well. 

Serving 40 million people annually, Feeding America is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization. Contact your local division within the Feeding America network to see how you can get involved.  

Support minimum wage laws 

Government mandated minimum wage increase laws help to improve the quality of life for many of those in your community, including seasonal workers. Updated minimum wage mandates ensure that temp workers are paid fairly, and such changes always stem from public support and demand.  

For example, New York is implementing a $15 statewide minimum wage plan, which is increasing earnings for more than 2 million citizens across the state. 

Feeding Westchester provides those in need with more than 8 million meals and 10 million pounds of food annually. Our efforts also include a number of initiatives, including our Mobile Food Pantry and health screenings for clients. Learn more about what we do.

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