President Obama, You Are Correct -- Two-Generation Strategies Alleviate Poverty

Almost 10 years ago, I started over with two children, two months of outstanding mortgage payments, an empty refrigerator, and $120.00. I did not grow up in poverty and lacked the survival skills needed to navigate such an experience. Though I had the educational and professional background needed to construct a bridge out of poverty, these skills were no match for the internal and external hurdles that I encountered while building my bridge. These hurdles include mental illness, chronic medical conditions, joblessness, a lack of social support, limited access to financial resources and the list goes on and on. Sadly, many families have negotiated these same external and internal hurdles generation after generation only to find themselves marching in place.

Changing economic, job, and family demographics, tumultuous housing and financial markets, and the lack of access to affordable post-secondary educational opportunities have pushed families who had never faced such unprecedented hardships into poverty. The reality is that America is undergoing a dramatic transformation driven by race, gender, and changes in family structure. Despite a complex labyrinth of laws, regulations, and the Herculean efforts of passionate individuals, government agencies, and organizations, significant progress has not been made towards eliminating generational poverty using long established strategies. In the United States, economic inequality is at the highest level in nearly one-hundred years. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation almost fifty percent of families in the United States with children eight years old and under are low income.

Vulnerable families are expert at living at the lowest end of the economic, social, educational, healthcare, judicial, and political spectrums. Yet well meaning policy makers, community leaders, and other stakeholders continue to set the proverbial table without ever asking these same families whether the "food" offered provides the fuel needed to truly disrupt poverty across the generational divide. Poor people must either lead or actively participate in any strategy created to break the chain of generational poverty. Two-generation approaches allow poor parents and children to assume such a role. These strategies are rooted in the finding that children will succeed in the future if parents succeed today.

As defined by Ascend at The Aspen Institute, hereinafter Ascend, "two-generation approaches focus on creating opportunities for and addressing the needs of both vulnerable parents and children together." Bipartisan polling results released at ThinkXChange convened by Ascend reveal that the public understands that two-generation strategies are increasingly necessary to improve economic and educational outcomes for vulnerable parents and children.

Successful two-generation approaches incorporate the following core components: social capital, early childhood and post-secondary education, employment, economic supports, and health and well-being. Social capital includes family, friends, neighbors, community, faith-based organizations, case managers, and career coaches. Economic supports provide the foundation of a successful two-generation strategy and include housing, transportation, financial education and asset building, tax credits, child care subsidies, food assistance/SNAP, health insurance/Medicaid, and student financial aid/Pell Grants.

Two-generation approaches are ongoing in nearly all fifty states. These approaches have been successfully implemented by a variety of organizations/institutions including community colleges and universities, promise communities, community action programs, and anti-poverty agencies. Community Action Program Tulsa commonly known as CAP Tulsa is a nationally recognized leader in using two-generation strategies to ensure that children are prepared to begin school; families can create a nurturing and secure environment; and families will be connected to each other. Like other community action programs, CAP Tulsa grew out of the community action movement born during President Johnson's War on Poverty. CAP Tulsa integrates the silos within its agency to strengthen existing programs; increase the number of programs available for parents; help each family develop a comprehensive plan that includes a roadmap on how established goals will be achieved; and train staff on the two-generation approach.

Colleges and universities are also using two-generation approaches to enable single parents to obtain undergraduate degrees in a supportive environment with access to subsidized housing, mentoring, personal development activities, financial education, and social work services. Keys to Degrees at Endicott College, Partners for Education at Berea College, and the Access Collaborative at The Ohio State University are but a few examples of highly successful programs with a proven track record of using two-generation strategies to break the cycle of generational poverty between single parents and their children.

Poverty is insidious and debilitating. As a nation we cannot continue to absorb the consequences associated with persistent generational poverty. Breaking the cycle of generational poverty requires innovation, engaging different voices, and a willingness to collaborate across systems instead of operating in separate silos. Implementing two-generation strategies will undoubtedly cause growing pains within the traditional models established to assist vulnerable families. But these growing pains will yield bountiful rewards that can ultimately change the trajectory of vulnerable families across generations.

As always be empowered, encouraged, and enlightened!