Growing Hope Against Hunger – Is this an American Made problem?

I’ve watched the trailer of the new Sesame Workshop program – Growing Hope Against Hunger, which aired as a one hour special on PBS October 9, 2011. My heart broke, and yours should too.

We have all heard the statistics over and over. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that 17 million American children — nearly 1 in 4 — have limited or uncertain access to affordable and nutritious food.

From the Feeding America website we also found:

  • In 2009, 43.6 million people (14.3 percent) were in poverty.
  • In 2009, 24.7 million (12.9 percent) of people ages 18-64 were in poverty.
  • In 2009, 15.5 million (20.7 percent) children under the age of 18 were in poverty.
  • In 2010, 4.8 percent of all U.S. households (5.6 million households) accessed emergency food from a food pantry one or more times.
  • In 2010, 59.2 percent of food-insecure households participated in at least one of the three major Federal food assistance programs –Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamp Program), The National School Lunch Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
  • Feeding America provides emergency food assistance to an estimated 37 million low-income people annually, a 46 percent increase from 25 million since Hunger in America 2010

Why do we have such staggering rates of poverty and hunger in America? american made magazine decided to take a look at the economics of the partners who are putting out this message of sensitivity. We found some surprising and not so surprising information.

From the Economic Policy Institute website we found:

“The world’s biggest retailer, U.S.-based Wal-Mart was responsible for $27 billion in U.S. imports from China in 2006 and 11% of the growth of the total U.S. trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2006. Wal-Mart’s trade deficit with China alone eliminated nearly 200,000 U.S. jobs in this period.”

From the AFL-CIO website, the largest federation of unions in the United States, notes earlier statistics on Walmart’s practices of importing consumer products manufactured outside of the United States:

  • Wal-Mart is the single largest importer of foreign-produced goods in the United States.
  • Wal-Mart’s biggest trading partner is China. The world’s largest retailer admits it bought some $18 billion in merchandise in 2004, from China, nearly 10 percent of all Chinese goods sold in this country that year.
  • More than 70 per cent of the products sold at Wal-Mart are made in China, according to the China Business Weekly.
  • More than 80 percent of the 6,000 factories in Wal-Mart’s worldwide database of suppliers are in China.

The Walmart Foundation is contributing a $1.5 million grant to the Sesame Workshop programming on hunger. We contacted Walmart through their corporate website and asked to discuss the above statistics, and the relevance on hunger in America. We have not heard from Walmart as of the date of this article.

We also reached out to Sesame Workshop to ask them about their business model. We were told to seek answers from their annual report.

On the website a release dated March 4, 2011 states 93% of production costs are covered by licensing activities or corporate sponsorships. The 2010, Sesame Workshop total operating budget was $136.4 million, and total operating expenses of $136.5 million. As noted on their 2010 CONSOLIDATED FINANCIAL STATEMENTS, $44,984 million of the operating budget was a result of licensing. This means that is approximately 1/3 of Sesame Workshop 2010 funding was derived from licensing revenue. We looked further on the site and found a list of over 176 licensees – these are manufacturers of product and services that license the Sesame Workshop names and trademarks to create product. License! Global Magazine listed Sesame Workshop as 29th out of 125 top global licensed brands, with a total of $1.5 billion in retail sales. Sesame Workshop lists a few of their key licensees in their 2009 annual report:

  • Children’s Apparel Network (this product is not made in the U.S.)
  • Hain Celestial (awaiting confirmation for Earth’s Best product, which is the licensee for the Sesame Street brand)
  • Hasbro (left a message and are awaiting a response – traditionally the bulk of Hasbro toys are not made in the United States)
  • Mattel Inc / Fisher-Price  (the bulk of both Mattel and Fisher-Price toys are not made in the United States)
  • Procter & Gamble (Crest Sesame Street Elmo and Friends toothbrush – Procter and Gamble could not tell us where the toothbrush was made)

In 2010 the U.S. trade deficit with China was $252 billion. What this deficit means is that the United States exported $82 billion dollars in goods to China, while China imported over $334 billion in goods to the United States. (Source: U.S. Census, Foreign Trade Statistics) Congress is currently examining the undervalued Chinese currency.

To see a child going hungry in one of the wealthiest countries in the world is unthinkable. To stop and wonder if that child is going hungry do to a large degree of the continued exporting of jobs in America to other countries, and then importing products back for the masses to purchase under the slogan “Save Money – Live Better”, is worth questioning.

All the children, and the families, in the Growing Hope Against Hunger programming developed by Sesame Workshop are putting a face to a problem we can no longer ignore. As valuable as this message is, and we 100% support this necessary conversation, more sustainable solutions to our very real and tragic challenges are necessary. What if old manufacturing sites were retooled in America, taking into consideration the environment and labor, while setting an example globally? What if brands collectedly sourced and manufactured goods right here in the United States?  American Made Matters, a consortium of manufacturers, is drawing attention once again to the importance of manufacturing in the U.S. Real solutions to the American economy are available to us – we all just have to be willing to give. This means giving on percents at the bottom-line. This would mean a world leading retail chain like Walmart developing a new campaign that places value on quality and people in place of a throw away economy it has created. This scenario would create living wage jobs again, and eliminate the poverty that Lily and her friends on Sesame Street now must try to explain to our children.

As for the lovely little girl at the end of the video who wants to own a food-pantry when she grows up, so she can help people – we only hope that her dreams can be broader and that hunger will not be such a driving force in the future for millions of American children.