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Low-income Workers' Perceptions of Wages, Food Acquisition, and Well-being

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Publication Date:
Jul 2019

Although studies have demonstrated an association between increased economic resources and improvements in food security and health, there is a paucity of qualitative research regarding the relationships between household resources, food security, and health. Policy changes related to increasing low wages are potential opportunities to understand changes to material resources. The aims of this analysis were to describe how low-wage workers perceive household resources in relation to food acquisition and to explore how workers in low-wage jobs connect food and diet to perceptions of health and well-being. The article's authors analyzed 190 transcripts from 55 workers in low-wage jobs who were living in households with children who were part of the Seattle Minimum Wage Study (up to three in-depth qualitative interviews and one phone survey per participant, conducted between 2015 and 2017). They coded and analyzed interviews using Campbell’s food acquisition framework and best practices for qualitative research. Participants relied on a combination of wages, government assistance, and private assistance from community or family resources to maintain an adequate food supply. Strategies tended to focus more on maintaining food quality than food quantity. Restricted resources also limited food-related leisure activities, which many participants considered important to quality of life. Although many low-wage workers would like to use additional income to purchase higher quality foods or increase food-related leisure activities, they often perceive trade-offs that limit income-based adjustments to food-spending patterns. Future studies should be specifically designed to examine food choices in response to changes in income.

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