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A One-Two Punch to Poverty for Oregon's Young Families

PHOTO: Kids from lower-income families are more likely to escape the cycle of poverty when programs are also coordinated to serve their parents, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Photo courtesy of Bridge Meadows.
PHOTO: Kids from lower-income families are more likely to escape the cycle of poverty when programs are also coordinated to serve their parents, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Photo courtesy of Bridge Meadows.
November 13, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. - To help low-income children, help their parents at the same time to get onto more stable financial footing. That's the message in a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report says programs and policies with the best intentions often focus on either kids or parents as two separate entities, when they could be more effective with a "two-generation" approach.

Tonia Hunt, executive director of Children First for Oregon, says getting more money into family budgets is key.

"The Earned Income Tax Credit, the childcare tax credit, and other ways that support family income is a direct benefit to kids," she says. "Those are some great policy solutions to reduce family stress and increase income for those families."

At least 126,000 children under age eight are in low-income households in Oregon.

According to the report, 78 percent of parents raising children in low-income Oregon families have no college degree. In half of those families, no parent has full-time, year-round work. Hunt says this makes affordable child care a top priority, so parents can get better jobs or the education they need to compete for them.

There are, however, some bright spots for family support groups in Oregon that are gaining national attention.

Bridge Meadows is a multi-generational, affordable housing development in Portland making it possible for families to adopt foster children, including elders who agree to be mentors and help with child care.

Derenda Shubert, Bridge Meadows' executive director, says the extra attention is paying off for young families - and will continue to do so into the next generation.

"What's even better is you have children who are going to now be productive citizens in the world, because they've had that stability," says Shubert. "They've had a foundation of family and home, and attention to their well-being."

Bridge Meadows recently won a national award for its multi-generational community, and is talking with other cities about expanding the model. Home-visiting programs also get high marks in the Annie E. Casey Foundation report.

Young families also struggled in previous generations, but Hunt says those families had greater social mobility and a better shot at eventually getting ahead. She says today's economic trends have changed the odds, making it harder to forge a pathway out of poverty.

"They are facing persistent and long-term, chronic challenges," says Hunt. "Low-wage jobs, lower educational attainment, tax policies and employment policies which make it hard for them to get ahead, and the high cost of living in the community."

According to the report, research has found parents' stress from the financial and job-seeking struggles is harmful to children.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR