Nearly Half of America’s Families With Young Children Struggle to Make Ends Meet

Posted November 12, 2014
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Newsrelease youngfamiliesstruggletomakeendsmeet 2014

With almost half the nation’s young chil­dren grow­ing up in low-income house­holds, a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion calls for a com­pre­hen­sive effort to lift kids out of pover­ty. The report focus­es on the impor­tance of deliv­er­ing high-qual­i­ty ear­ly child­hood edu­ca­tion while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly pro­vid­ing par­ents with access to job train­ing, career paths and oth­er tools that enable them to sup­port their families. 

The KIDS COUNT® pol­i­cy report, Cre­at­ing Oppor­tu­ni­ty for Fam­i­lies: A Two-Gen­er­a­tion Approach, out­lines how the pub­lic, non­prof­it and pri­vate sec­tors must work togeth­er to reduce pover­ty among the 10 mil­lion low-income fam­i­lies with young chil­dren in the Unit­ed States. The rec­om­men­da­tions pro­pose inte­grat­ing state and fed­er­al employ­ment, edu­ca­tion and child care pro­grams for par­ents and chil­dren to cre­ate bet­ter oppor­tu­ni­ties for the entire family. 

We hope this report will spark deep com­mit­ment in Wash­ing­ton and in board rooms across the coun­try to remove the obsta­cles that pre­vent mil­lions of fam­i­lies from putting their kids on a path to suc­cess,” said Patrick McCarthy, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Casey Foun­da­tion. For too long, our approach to pover­ty has focused sep­a­rate­ly on chil­dren and adults, instead of their inter­re­lat­ed needs. We’ve learned a lot about what works in sep­a­rate areas, but we’re not com­bin­ing these lessons to break the cycle of poverty.” 

The Foundation’s two-gen­er­a­tion approach seeks to equip fam­i­lies with the tools and skills to get on a path to oppor­tu­ni­ty and over­come some of the obsta­cles they face, such as inflex­i­ble and unpre­dictable jobs that do not offer high enough wages to sup­port a fam­i­ly; lack of access to high-qual­i­ty, reli­able ear­ly child care and edu­ca­tion; and increased stress lev­els for par­ents and chil­dren. The report describes spe­cif­ic strate­gies for address­ing these chal­lenges so that par­ents can ful­ly nur­ture and sup­port their chil­dren and, ulti­mate­ly, build bet­ter futures for them­selves and their kids.

The key find­ings show that near­ly a third of chil­dren age 5 or younger in low-income fam­i­lies have par­ents with con­cerns about their devel­op­ment and that 45% of low-income fam­i­lies with young chil­dren (age 8 or younger) are head­ed by sin­gle par­ents, com­pared with 17% of mid­dle- and upper-income fam­i­lies. In near­ly 80% of low-income fam­i­lies with young chil­dren, par­ents do not have a post­sec­ondary degree, which dra­mat­i­cal­ly high­lights the need to equip par­ents who have lim­it­ed edu­ca­tion with skills that can help them earn a fam­i­ly-sup­port­ing income. Addi­tion­al­ly, the report empha­sizes the need for fed­er­al and state agen­cies, along with busi­ness­es and com­mu­ni­ty- and faith-based insti­tu­tions, to work more close­ly togeth­er so that the whole fam­i­ly can succeed. 

The report out­lines three broad recommendations: 

  • Cre­ate poli­cies that equip par­ents and chil­dren with the income, tools and skills they need to suc­ceed — as a fam­i­ly and as indi­vid­u­als. State and fed­er­al gov­ern­ments should strength­en poli­cies that expand job-train­ing, edu­ca­tion­al and career oppor­tu­ni­ties; adopt poli­cies that give par­ents more flex­i­bil­i­ty at work, such as paid time off; increase the Child Tax Cred­it for low-income par­ents of very young chil­dren; and expand the Earned Income Tax Cred­it to increase the income of non­cus­to­di­al parents.
  • Put com­mon sense into com­mon prac­tice by struc­tur­ing pub­lic sys­tems to respond to the real­i­ties fac­ing today’s fam­i­lies. State and fed­er­al gov­ern­ments should pro­mote col­lab­o­ra­tion and align poli­cies and pro­grams through inter­a­gency com­mis­sions and inno­va­tion funds. For exam­ple, child- and adult-focused state agen­cies should con­sol­i­date their data to look at the whole fam­i­ly. Fed­er­al pol­i­cy­mak­ers could take advan­tage of new leg­is­la­tion and reau­tho­riza­tion peri­ods for Head Start and Tem­po­rary Assis­tance for Needy Fam­i­lies, among oth­ers, to bring togeth­er child and adult programs.
  • Use exist­ing child, adult and neigh­bor­hood pro­grams and plat­forms to build evi­dence for prac­ti­cal path­ways out of pover­ty for entire fam­i­lies. Ear­ly child­hood, K‑12, home-vis­it­ing, job-train­ing and sup­port­ive hous­ing pro­grams could part­ner with one anoth­er to con­nect par­ents with finan­cial coach­ing, job-readi­ness assis­tance, edu­ca­tion and oth­er tools to achieve finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty, while also ensur­ing their chil­dren have access to high-qual­i­ty care and schooling.

Cre­at­ing Oppor­tu­ni­ty for Fam­i­lies: A Two-Gen­er­a­tion Approach is avail­able at www​.aecf​.org. Addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion is avail­able in the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter, which also con­tains the most recent nation­al, state and local data on hun­dreds of indi­ca­tors of child well-being. The Data Cen­ter allows users to cre­ate rank­ings, maps and graphs for use in pub­li­ca­tions and on web­sites, and to view real-time infor­ma­tion on mobile devices.

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