We Need a Two-Generation Approach to End Poverty

KC_PR_2gen_badge02_150pxYesterday, we joined the Annie E. Casey Foundation in releasing a new KIDS COUNT® policy report Creating Opportunity for Families:  A Two-Generation Approach. The report focuses on America’s 10 million low-income families with young children living below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

The report makes the case that a child’s success is tied to the family’s stability and well-being. The impact of poverty on children’s healthy development, educational attainment, future employment prospects, and financial security has been documented for over a quarter of a century. Because 42 percent of children born to parents at the bottom of the income ladder stay there, a two-generation approach—helping parents and children at the same time—is imperative to breaking the cycle of poverty.

Low-income families experience complex challenges. Many have inflexible, unpredictable jobs that do not pay enough to support a family. In Kentucky in 2012, 52 percent of low-income families with young children had no parent with full-time, year-round employment, an indication that many families are struggling to find employment or are trying to make ends meet with part-time work.

Other obstacles facing these families, as cited in the report, include:

  • Lack of access to high-quality, flexible, and reliable early child care and education;
  • Daily stress that makes it difficult to create a safe, nurturing home environment; and
  • Isolation and a lack of coordination across support programs and services.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation offers a number of research-based policies and practices to address challenges and strengthen the whole family.

One recommendation involves improving public systems intended to support families. This includes local programs, state agencies and federal incentives focusing on both parents and children – not just one or the other. The success of kynect should challenge and inspire state leaders to think about other connections. For instance, what if we as Kentuckians had a human services portal and implemented a ‘no wrong door’ approach? With increased efficiency and access, every eligible family could receive every benefit for which they are eligible, such as TANF, SNAP or other important supports.

The report also places a special emphasis on the linkage between family economic security and early childhood programming. For example, Kentucky’s successful home-visiting program, HANDS, works to build parents’ skills to ensure the safe and healthy development of their children. Neighboring states like Virginia and Indiana have integrated elements into their home visitation programs that also help parents increase their education level and find employment.

Child care subsidies are another critical way to support children and parents together. Restoring the Child Care Assistance Program during the 2014 General Assembly was a critical step in supporting working families. The logical next step for the General Assembly and our new Governor come January 2016 is a commitment to increase access for families up to 200 percent of the poverty line to quality child care through CCAP.

The report discusses several federal tax policies that could benefit families, yet state solutions exist as well. Frankfort leaders can make an immediate difference for families through two common sense and bi-partisan tax measures. A refundable state Earned Income Tax Credit, and making the state Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit refundable, can and will ease the burden of poverty.

You can read a report like this and walk away depressed at the scale of poverty we face. Or you can look at the landscape and see literally dozens of ways to immediately give families and kids a hand up. I vote for the second option.

Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach is available at www.aecf.org. Additional information is available in the KIDS COUNT® Data Center at datacenter.kidscount.org, which also contains the most recent national, state and local data on hundreds of indicators of child well-being.

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