As we enter 2012, the picture for many of our nation’s children is grim. The recently released Kids Count report found that 42 percent lived in families with incomes below twice the federal poverty line in 2009. That’s 31 million children. And with the economy’s slow recovery, that number may be even higher today.
But this is not just a short-term, cyclical economic problem. More often than not, children who grow up in poverty stay in poverty. These vulnerable children are born into economically insecure households that lack consistent income, have no access to financial assets and are disconnected from high-quality jobs and opportunities for career advancement—and so the multi-generational cycle of poverty continues.
Research tells us that elevating vulnerable families to at least 200 percent above the poverty line will enable them to reach and maintain long-term economic stability. But we need to do more than help these families meet their immediate, day-to-day financial needs. We must arm them with tools, training and resources that allow them to break free of this multi-generational poverty pattern, creating conditions where children can develop to their full potential and forge their own pathways to financial prosperity.
This may sound challenging against our country’s current economic backdrop, but there are many organizations that are actively working to empower families to achieve long-term economic stability and opportunities for both low-income parents and their children. At the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, our Family Economic Security program supports community-based organizations and initiatives that equip families with the comprehensive benefits, capacity and resources they need to succeed, removing barriers created by class, gender and racial disparities that have held families back for generations. These organizations invest in strategies that are closely aligned with these shared goals, including:
- Helping families build sustained income and financial assets through programs that teach them to save money and manage their finances.
- Supporting innovations around products and services that are designed specifically to help low-income families achieve financial efficacy, such as child savings accounts and individual development accounts.
- Taking a whole-child, holistic approach to ensure a child’s well-being by supporting education and health programs.
- Increasing low-income families’ access to professional skill-building and workforce development programs that connect them to high-quality jobs and educational opportunities and credentials. Innovative programs such as the New Options Project help young adults gain marketable skill sets that allow them to build pipelines toward employment.
- Mobilizing community organizations to develop widespread support networks that prioritize the needs of low-income families. The Insight Center for Community Economic Development helps communities serve underserved households by creating affordable housing, jobs, health care facilities, childcare programs and business opportunities.
Our founder Will Keith Kellogg understood in 1930 that a child who is healthy and well-educated is in a strong position to succeed. The same is true today. But we also need to make sure children grow up with families who are empowered to obtain and maintain economic security. Ultimately, this holistic combination of strategies is critical to breaking the multi-generational poverty cycle and propelling vulnerable children toward long-term success.