Pathways Out of Poverty Require Two-Generation Solutions

Here are some distressing facts: More than 32 million children live in low-income homes, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty. Worse, children who spend half of their childhoods in "persistently poor" households are far more likely to endure poverty as adults, according to a study by the Urban Institute. They are 90 percent more likely to enter their 20s without a high school diploma and four times more likely to have a teen premarital birth. Under these conditions, it's no surprise the cycle of poverty persists from generation to generation.

Recent research reveals that the timing of child poverty is a significant factor. Compared with children whose family incomes were at least double the poverty line ($23,550 for a family of four), those who are poor during early childhood completed two fewer years of schooling and were three times more likely to be in poor health. Annually, they earned half as much and received $826 more in food stamps. Males were more than twice as likely to be arrested, and women were five times more likely to have a child out of wedlock before age 21. However, an annual financial boost to the family of just $3,000 helped reap a harvest of improvements in these areas for both parents and children.

Over time, the philanthropic community has pursued a range of strategies to break the poverty cycle for parents and children through strategies that focus on early childhood development or parental capacity building, yet we've failed to achieve more positive outcomes at scale. Why?

At the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, we believe we must strengthen two generations simultaneously. Children and parents do not exist in silos and neither should our solutions. To be effective, we must support quality education for young children and equitable opportunity for parents. AVANCE in Texas and New Mexico and INPEACE in Hawaii are two successful models we support. Both engage children in culturally and developmentally appropriate education and work with parents to create stable, nurturing homes where children thrive socially, emotionally and educationally. They connect parents to knowledge and resources that build financial literacy, parenting skills and civic leadership.
Others like Career Advance in Tulsa, Okla. help parents advance their own job training, education and economic security while partnering with Head Start for high quality early childhood learning for their children.

Philanthropy has already become more holistic in our strategies to create long-term change, working with communities to solve problems through cross-sector, public-private partnerships. Connecting our work to approaches and partners that lift up two generations at once is the logical next step.

Now is the time to scale up the work of organizations like these who are fundamentally changing the service system and implementing two-generation solutions. We know there are 46 million Americans in poverty and 12 million currently out of work. At this moment, when opportunity meets urgency, we must, as philanthropists and leaders, engage in strategies that build bridges for parents and children to move out of poverty together.