Hitting Reset: A New Term Calls for a New Solution

The election is over, a record $6 billion spent and an estimated 120 million votes cast, with a clear decision made on the next President of the United States. And our country is overdue for a robust, solutions-centered conversation that taps the best of America -- our families -- and reminds us that the future of families hangs in the balance.

A major question for families is what kind of agenda the President will pursue in his second term. The country faces many pressing issues, from taxes to the deficit. But before getting mired in the sequestration and sustainability debates, the President should add to the top of his list the urgent task of expanding economic opportunity in America.

The 2012 Presidential campaign revolved around the middle class. And it's essential that we nurture that broad swath of America. But the political conversation has largely excluded the most vulnerable Americans, who are in greater need than ever of new solutions to enduring problems.

The election highlighted shifting demographics. The country is growing more racially and ethnically diverse, and at the same time, income inequality is increasing -- and economic mobility is stagnant for those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Two out of five children are growing up in low-income families. The majority of these children will never make it into the middle class -- unless we adopt new innovations to disrupt the poverty cycle. One of the most promising positive disruptions is a "two-generation" approach, which connects opportunities for children and their parents simultaneously.

Two-generation programs are sprouting around the country, across red states and blue states -- from the Community Action Project of Tulsa, Okla., which offers high quality early childhood education for children and health-care sector job training for parents; to Massachusetts' Endicott College, whose Keys to Degrees Program offers student parents and their children year-round on-campus housing, peer support, and high quality early childhood education.

Two-generation educational approaches are promising solutions because education is key to the economic success of families -- 84 percent of all children who live with parents with less than a high school diploma are low-income. And there is a growing body of research that shows a correlation between increased maternal education and positive outcomes for children.

Americans still feel deeply worried about the future, but are hungry for a new approach to moving struggling families toward economic security. As pollster Celinda Lake revealed in bipartisan national survey findings at the Aspen ThinkXChange last month, many Americans of all ages (18-65+) believe that the next generation will be worse off than their own.

This is an enormous and profound shift in beliefs -- from optimism to pessimism about the next generation. In the same bipartisan survey, Americans across race, gender, and income revealed that they believe two-generation programs that educate parents and children together -- rather than serving each separately -- are the most effective route to help get people out of poverty. These same respondents held firm even if such programs meant an increase in their taxes -- this included Republicans, Independents, and Democrats.

And those most impacted by the potential of two-generation solutions agree. "I would tell a roomful of single mothers to instill the importance of education -- it really is a ripple effect," said Jessica Rockowitz, a graduate of the Keys to Degrees program at Endicott College, who spoke at the Aspen ThinkXChange. "You're impacting your own life and your kids' lives -- it's two generations, and it's continuously more than that."

The data and the voices tell us that business as usual will not work. We need bold new strategies that bring together the public and private sectors, and unite Republicans, Independents and Democrats. The Presidential election amplified our differences, but also the need for all of us to work together to solve the country's most challenging problems. It is time to hit "reset" -- to move beyond partisan politics and embrace promising two-generation approaches for the parents and children who have the potential to be the drivers of our economic future.