How California’s Minimum Wage Hike is Worsening College Food Insecurity

By: Georgia | Published: May 10, 2024

Recent studies highlight a harsh reality on California’s college campuses—students are skipping meals to afford books and other fees. 

The struggle is real, with food insecurity rates swinging wildly from 25% to over 50% across different schools.

Fast Food: A College Staple

A study found that 84% percent of college students consumed fast-food with 54% eating it at least once a week.

Close-up of a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich on a bun, resting on a tray with the Chick-fil-A logo visible

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Fast and cheap—that’s why it’s the go-to meal for many students. But as costs rise, even this budget-friendly option is slipping away.


Financial Fumbles and Food

Managing money for the first time alongside spiraling tuition and shifting financial aid can leave many students floundering.

A lone student sits reading in a large auditorium filled with empty brown seats, highlighting a sense of solitude amidst an academic setting

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Food insecurity becomes just another part of the college challenge.

Wage Changes Worsening Problem

The recent minimum wage hike has made even fast food a tough buy for students.

Front view of Wheeler Hall at UC Berkeley, a classic architectural building with columns and steps, surrounded by lush greenery and a clear sky

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Those on a tight budget, especially the 42% of UC students on Pell Grants, feel the pinch the most.

Skipping Meals

With the rise in meal costs, skipping meals is becoming more common, affecting students’ health and their ability to perform academically.

A candid shot of two people dining at a fast food restaurant, focusing on hands serving burgers and fries in a casual setting

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It’s a vicious cycle of less food, less focus.

Kitchen Crisis Compounds Problems

Another study found that lack of proper food storage and cooking facilities means many students can’t easily whip up a meal, pushing them towards fast food despite its rising costs.

Close-up of a hand holding a slice of pepperoni pizza, with the focus on the melty cheese and vibrant red pepperoni atop a crispy crust

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It’s either that or go hungry.


Grassroots Movements Making a Mark

At UC Berkeley, students are taking matters into their own hands with a food pantry that helps not just with meals but also offers emergency housing and financial aid assistance.

Panoramic aerial view of UC Berkeley campus showing multiple buildings, green areas, and the distant San Francisco Bay

Source: Wikimedia Commons

It’s community support at its best.


The Pantry: A Band-Aid Solution?

While food pantries provide immediate relief, they aren’t a fix-all.

Close-up of hands with gloves exchanging canned goods and fresh produce at a busy food bank

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Limited budgets and volunteer staff mean they can’t always offer the nutritious meals students need to stay healthy.


The Stigma of Getting Help

There’s often a stigma attached to using food pantries, which can prevent students from accessing this crucial resource.

Overhead view of two female students studying together at a rustic wooden table, with books and a cold drink

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Breaking down these barriers is key to tackling campus hunger.


Measuring the Hunger Metric

Without precise tools to measure food insecurity, it’s tough to target interventions effectively. 

Aerial view of a cafe from above, showing people sitting at round tables engaged in eating, working on laptops

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Tailored tools for California could lead to better policies and fewer students going hungry on campus.


Policy Changes Pending

Accurate data could drive policy changes that directly address the root causes of food insecurity on campuses.

lose-up of a female college student wearing a denim jacket, holding a stack of books

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It’s about turning statistics into solutions that will last.


The Future of College Food Insecurity

What’s next beyond food pantries? 

Close-up of a young woman outdoors biting into a wholesome sandwich

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Finding sustainable, long-term solutions that ensure no student has to choose between a textbook and a meal is the challenge ahead for California’s universities.