Innovative Community Organizations Lead New Efforts to Build Family Economic Security

Parents want the best for their children, and constantly work to provide a strong future for their families, whether that's reading a book before bedtime or making sure their children eat nutritious foods. However, many parents face barriers to securing fair employment with good wages and opportunities for growth. We know that parents who are financially secure can better support their families and help ensure their children can succeed in school and in life. Unfortunately, many parents' circumstances make it that much more challenging to raise their children in financially secure homes.

This is especially true for low-income single parents and low-skilled workers, who often face unique barriers to securing good jobs and living wages. These barriers include access to quality child care and inflexible or unpredictable work schedules. Many of these parents also lack the skills, credentials and training needed to secure higher-paying jobs.

The numbers tell us that we aren't doing enough to ensure all workers are receiving the necessary support to give their children the best opportunities to thrive in school and in life. According to the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau, 46.7 million people in the U.S. are living in poverty and more than 1 in 5 children live in poverty. And though national employment numbers have made a comeback since the recession, stagnant wages have made this cycle of poverty all the more difficult to break, especially for low-income single parents and low-skilled workers.

However, if we look closely at how our nation's job market is structured, we can find opportunities for entry and advancement. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation recently announced an $11.6 million partnership with 14 organizations across the nation that are leading efforts in their communities to build pathways and partnerships to secure employment in local, high-demand industries. Ensuring parents are financially stable sets children on a better path to success. And we know that focusing on two generations simultaneously enables children and families to succeed together.

Supporting Transitions to Employment for Parents (STEPS) grantees are workforce development organizations that are partnering with local early childhood education providers to identify unemployed mothers who are seeking jobs and already have their children enrolled in early child care, pre-K programs or elementary schools. Child care can be a major barrier for lower-income parents, especially single parents who wish to enter the workforce. The seven grantees are working to provide more mothers with access to workforce training and education that can lead to quality employment in high-demand industries, lessening the burden of child care costs to help them raise their children in financially secure homes. Goodwill Industries of Central Michigan's Heartland (GICMH) in Battle Creek, Michigan, for example, is working to address the needs of unemployed, single mothers living in poverty by cultivating partnerships with both employers and early education providers to meet the needs of their young children. GICMH will provide more than 100 women in the community with targeted training and placement in jobs that pay family-supporting wages.

Providing parents the skills and resources needed to move up in their jobs is key to helping them earn more and save more. Moving low-income, minimum-wage workers up the career ladder to earn fair, family-supporting wages will move their entire families toward economic security. Growing fields, such as STEM and health care, are facing a talent shortage. In an effort to connect families with these existing opportunities, the Kellogg Foundation has invested in seven Mobility and Opportunity for Valuable Employment by Upskilling Parents (MOVE UP) grantees that are helping ensure parents can advance to higher-skilled, higher-paying jobs in their communities. One example is the Metropolitan Career Center (MCC) of Philadelphia, which serves 400 people a year by providing workforce development and post-secondary education to low-income, working parents of color with young children. MCC's Career Pathways Initiative will serve more than 100 parents by providing them with a suite of services, including job training, financial education, benefits and child care subsidies that will help women and single parents advance into higher-wage information technology and health care jobs.

With access to quality, good paying jobs and important support like employee training, family-friendly workplaces and career advancement opportunities, parents can move up the career ladder and earn family-sustaining wages. The ability of parents to provide for their families is largely dependent on their ability to secure jobs that offer room for skills development and opportunities to grow. These two pilot programs are working to find new and better approaches that transform unemployed and low-income parents into prepared, successful employees who are better equipped to provide for their families. Together with our grantees, we are bringing public and private sectors together to grow the workforce that our communities and country need and help parents succeed in 21st century jobs.

Breaking the cycle of poverty is a long road, and we all need to be involved. It's our hope that working across generations with children and their parents will equip them with the resources and skills to grow in their careers and support their families, all of which leads to children succeeding in school and in life.