Break Cycles of Poverty and Grow Family Prosperity by Making Permanent Investments in Families

As we climb out of the pandemic and face America’s racial reckoning, we are called to come together like never before across generations and geography for the wellbeing of all our children and families. The American Rescue Plan is a bold bet on families and a historic opportunity to cut child poverty in half. If ever there was a time for two-generation approaches, it is now.

Two-generation solutions centering on children and the adults in their lives simultaneously can help us emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger. Parents and caregivers are the most critical factor in a child’s development and well-being. If we want children to get three healthy meals a day, their caregivers need good jobs, access to nutritious foods close to home and mental health supports. If we want children to succeed in school, they have a better shot if their parents also have educational opportunities. In a recent conversation that Ascend at the Aspen Institute had with parents and caregivers, a parent said family prosperity means “having the right resources as a family to achieve success and continuously see growth.”

Providing direct financial assistance to families is an immediate win for family stability and yields long-term positive results for children. As cited by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, for families with young children with annual earnings of $25,000 or less, $3,000 in additional income is associated with a 17 percent increase in the child’s future earnings.

While the American Rescue Plan was a win for families, it was not a bipartisan win. Two-generation solutions offer a path beyond partisan polarization. These solutions are advancing in blue and red states and communities across the country, and Republican and Democratic policymakers understand the positive impact of addressing the needs and strengths of children and the adults in their lives together. In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan and the legislature have launched the Maryland Two-Generation Economic Security Commission to charge leaders across agencies, state legislators and community leaders to build effective, equitable strategies for family well-being and economic mobility. In Washington state, members of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Task Force on Poverty Reduction and the state’s Department of Social and Health Services collaborated to create a comprehensive, 10-year plan to reduce poverty and inequality across the state.

It’s time to scale these kinds of solutions. We have three ready-to-pull policy levers to supercharge our efforts and get short-term wins that generate long-term results and advance equity.

First, the White House needs to activate the Interagency Council on Economic Mobility, developed last year and popular with both policy leaders and career staff. It has the authority to implement a cross-agency family economic mobility and well-being outcomes dashboard, tracking metrics of child and adult educational success, earning and economic assets and health. Creating a complementary National Family Well-Being Council, made of parents and caregivers to center their lived experience in policy and decision-making, would put people at the center, ensuring the council is people-first. As demographics and family structures evolve, the National Family Well-Being Council should reflect projected census demographics and include parents, grandparents and guardians. A “parent pressure test” would bring critical insights to increase effectiveness and efficiency in federal policies and programs and send a powerful signal to families that they are seen and critical to our recovery and rebuild effort.

Second, Congress should seize the rare bipartisan opportunity to reintroduce and enact the Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act, originally introduced by Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), which offers a robust playbook for two-generation approaches and intergenerational prosperity. It’s not only working for families in Maine and New Mexico but also gaining momentum in all fifty states.

Third, the combined power of the Biden administration’s Executive Order on Racial Equity and the groundbreaking anti-poverty measures of the American Rescue Plan are game-changing policy tools. Our eyes and hearts have been closed to the racial and gender discrimination rooted in our country’s punitive, underfunded systems. Through two-generation policy solutions we construct pathways to opportunity and remove barriers to meaningfully dismantle structural racism and end pernicious intergenerational disparities that hinder economic security, limit educational success and compromise health and well-being for families of color.

Picture public agencies at multiple levels of government, working in concert to support our families, tracking the data and focusing political will and public resources where they are most needed to dismantle inequities and put all families on the path to prosperity. If we want to guarantee a strong recovery, let’s back American families.

Anne Mosle is the executive director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute.

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