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Opinion: The Promise of the Two-Generation Approach to Poverty

Stephanie Mitchell Hughes Stephanie Mitchell Hughes Opinion: The Promise of the Two-Generation Approach to PovertyArtwork by Vinchen. Photo by Walker Evans.
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As part of his War on Poverty, President Johnson established critical federal and state initiatives such as Head Start, nutrition assistance, Medicare and Medicaid that continue today. Despite some important gains over the last fifty-one years, high levels of poverty continue to exist across the United States. 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. As a result, I no longer believe that the framework built by the War on Poverty can fully address the complexities of poverty as it exists today. I believe that two-generation strategies are properly equipped to successfully navigate the complex landscape of 21st century poverty.

Recent bipartisan polling results from Ascend at The Aspen Institute reveal that the public is very aware that two-generation strategies are increasingly necessary to improve economic and educational outcomes for parents and children in vulnerable families. Two-generation strategies involve listening to and engaging families. These strategies include the following components: social capital, early childhood education, health and well-being, economic assets, and postsecondary and employment pathways. It is critical that a two-generation approach measure and account for outcomes for both parents and children. Two-generation strategies must also align and link ongoing systems and funding streams while concurrently pursuing improved results for both parents and children. In a two-generation approach, the parent and his or her allies work together to identify and address the agreed upon needs of both the parent and child. An ally might be a social service agency or group of individuals with specific skills who have made the commitment to help the family forge a path out of poverty.

As a single mother who started over with two children, an empty refrigerator, two months of outstanding mortgage payments and $120, how would I use a two-generation strategy to disrupt generational poverty in Columbus? By equipping other single mothers with the information needed to stabilize their household. My dream is to develop a curricula for individual and family workshops through community organizations covering topics such as financial literacy, with an emphasis on budgeting and building an emergency fund, postsecondary education and training, nutritious meal planning with limited funds, and accessing emergency resources. Being a single mother is extremely difficult and stressful. To that end, individual and family assessments must be conducted to determine the physical and mental health well-being of the household. Unless a household is physically and mentally healthy, its members will not have the capacity to absorb and apply information about financial literacy, nutrition, emergency resources, and improving educational outcomes.

Regardless of our race, gender, socioeconomic status, educational level or position, the task of eliminating poverty in Columbus begins and ends with each of us. Eliminating poverty requires a change in mindset. We must, to borrow the phrase, “be the change” we wish to see. To successfully execute two-generation strategies I believe that we must find a common language. Finding a common language means releasing any bias’, whether explicit or implicit, that we hold about poverty, race, geography, educational level, and socio-economic status. We must step outside of our respective comfort zones to create relationships with each other based upon mutual respect and trust. If we accept the challenge of using two-generation strategies to intentionally disrupt poverty in Columbus we will become a force for the families in our community who face the daily struggle to survive without enough.

As always be encouraged, enlightened, and empowered.

Stephanie Mitchell Hughes is a writer and speaker courageously communicating her truth. She openly shares living with depression, life as a single mother, and other challenges to encourage and inspire others. Stephanie writes for The Huffington Post, The Shriver Report, MariaShriver.com and other online publications. She is also an Ambassador for Ascend at The Aspen Institute. In October 2013, Stephanie talked about how she learned to openly embrace the hard and difficult places in life at TedxColumbus. Follow Stephanie on Twitter @srmhughes.

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