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Two Generations to Battle Poverty

Here's a sobering statistic from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, nearly half the kids across America are growing up in low-income families. A new report from the foundation calls for a comprehensive, two-generation approach to breaking that cycle of poverty.

As Terry Brooks, who heads Kentucky Youth Advocates, put it, "You can't separate a family's wallet from their children's well-being."

He said low-income working Kentuckians often are impacted by what he called "very inflexible" jobs "that not only don't pay enough to support a family, but the 'innards' of that job - time-off, flex-time, family-leave policies - all work against a wholesome, well-developed family."

According to Brooks, in 2012 more than half of Kentucky's low-income families with young children had no parent with full-time, year-round employment.

Adrienne Bush is executive director of Hazard Perry County Community Ministries, which provides early childhood and after-school programs in the two eastern Kentucky counties. She said she thinks the two-generation approach is the best way to address economic opportunity because supporting the working parent is just as crucial as what's going on in their child's classroom.

"While children are being educated," she said, "parents have the ability to work full-time, year-round, and go to school to obtain the skills that they need to better provide for their families."

But Bush said to make it work, the Legislature needs to increase state child-care support. The eligibility limit is now at 140 percent of the federal poverty line. Bush said a more realistic limit to enable a family to achieve self-sufficiency is 200 percent.

The report recommends making coordination between the various local, state and federal programs more seamless and efficient. Brooks said there are "nonpartisan, non-budget-busting" ways to make that happen.

"We need to ask ourselves as a Commonwealth, 'Can we emulate states like Ohio' that has created what they call a 'benefits bank,' that really treats low-income families as customers for benefits," he said.

Brooks said he hopes leaders will use the report to set policies that embrace the two-generation approach and connect a family's financial stability with their children's early education.

The report, "Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach," is online at: http://AECF.org

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