Kids counting on us to address inequality

 

By Andrew Bradley

More than one in five Hoosier children are stuck living in

poverty, and they need Indiana's policymakers to tackle innovative policy

solutions to help secure their future. Data recently released by Kids Count and the

Indiana Youth Institute reveal that the poverty

rate

for Indiana's children has worsened over the past decade,

jeopardizing the economic well-being not just for today's kids, but also the

social and economic future of our state. But poverty doesn't have to

be a forgone conclusion for Hoosier families: by implementing "two-generation"

policies that do double duty by helping parents put themselves on the pathway

to economic success while simultaneously putting kids on the path to

educational and personal success, Indiana can turn around a decade lost to

economic decline.

While the Kids Count data book has some bright

spots for Indiana children, including gains in health coverage and educational

attainment, the worsening economic trends show where Indiana's policymakers'

attention needs to turn. The data finds that as of 2012, 22.1% (350,000) of

Indiana's children were living below 100% of Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG),

down 0.5% from a year ago, but up dramatically from just 15.7% in 2004. The

rate of child poverty has worsened even since the recession ended in 2009, when

19.9% of Hoosier kids lived in poverty. The Kids Count data also suggests that

the lack of economic security of Indiana's kids' parents and communities

endangers the whole family. A full 30% of Indiana's children have parents that

lack secure employment, up from 28% in 2008. Perhaps most disturbing is the

increase of Hoosier children living in areas of concentrated poverty, up almost

four-fold from only 3% (48,000 kids) in 2000 to 11% (182,000 kids) in 2012.

Sadly, these figures only confirm the research that we at

the Indiana Institute for Working Families have been reporting: our working

families have suffered a 'lost decade' economically, made worse by a policy

climate inhospitable to low-income Hoosier families. According to our 'Status of Working Families in Indiana 2012' report, Indiana has

seen a 30% increase in child poverty since 2007, the 8th largest increase in

the U.S. and greater than that of all our neighbors in that period except

Michigan. Beyond the narrow federal measure of poverty, we know that

38.7% of Hoosier children live in low-income families (that is, those below

200% FPG), ranking 32nd in the nation. These are working

families, too: 72.8% of Indiana's low-income families already work, with low-wage jobs only on the

rise. In fact, 41.5% of Indiana's children under 13 from working families were

living below 200% of the poverty line in 2012, ranking 33rd in

the nation according to Working Poor Families Project data.

It would be negligent (not to mention na•ve) for Indiana's

policymakers and advocates to pin their hopes solely on the educational gains

of children and rely on Hoosier kids to grow up to solve the state's

deep-rooted problems of poverty on their own. That's because when children grow

up poor, the effects of poverty often don't melt away even under the best of circumstances.

According to a study by the Urban Institute, "persistent

poverty among children is of particular concern, as the cumulative effect of

being poor may lead to especially negative outcomes and limited opportunities."

The stark truth is that after a decade of growing child poverty, Indiana's

policymakers and advocates commit malfeasance by avoiding serious attempts to

alleviate the economy's impact on low-income families.

However, Indiana's policymakers have a history of taking two

steps back for every step forward on child poverty. This year, the Institute

included as part of our 2014 policy agenda a proposal to smooth out the 'Cliff Effect' that happens when a $0.50 bump in income leads to

the loss of up to $8,500 in quality child care benefits. This low-cost proposal

was introduced as a bill during the recent session of the General Assembly, but

it didn't go far in the Statehouse. Indiana also currently has

the potential to take a step forward with a pilot program that could lead to

universal pre-kindergarten. But the state would take at least two steps back if

it follows through with the idea of "obtaining a Head

Start and a Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) block grant to fund

prekindergarten or early learning education programs in Indiana", which

would in effect take from the futures of infants and toddlers in order to fund

a program for 4 year olds.

To reverse the trend of inadequate policies, Indiana must

intentionally invest where its needs are the greatest: in the economic well-being of both Indiana's kids and their

families. To see permanent improvement in Indiana's stubborn child poverty

problem, the state should purposefully seek to implement "two-generation

solutions" that help the whole family by giving an economic boost to

low-income parents while providing the foundation of future success for their

kids. While the term isn't new, advocates including the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Aspen Institute are now

championing state-based two-generation policies that focus on adult-focused

systems that serve low-income parents and children. Many of the strategies

dovetail with initiatives that Indiana has already begun to explore, and have

the potential to benefit parents by helping them develop marketable education

and skills while also improving kids' chances at success by providing a more

secure and stable home environment. Here are a few examples:

* Provide education & training to both generations at

once: parents are better able to earn high-quality degrees and credentials

(which would help Indiana reach its 'Big Goal') when children have

access to high-quality childcare and families are supported with wraparound

services. An example is CareerAdvance in Tulsa

(described in this brief by CLASP), which

provides skills training for parents leading to a degree in health sciences

while simultaneously connecting to child care, transportation, and links to

services such as HeadStart that provide "intensive

parenting support".

* Multiply the impact of workforce development: combine the Indiana Career

Council's new Sector Strategies Taskforce with

the current momentum of early childhood education in the state. According to the Aspen

Institute, the "combination of high quality early childhood education

(preschool through 3rd grade) with sectoral

job training leading to high skill/high wage employment, supplemented by

wrap-around family and peer support services, will lead to long-term academic

and economic success for low income families".

* Expand access to financial literacy and assets for all

members of the family: policies that unlock economic opportunity and financial

literacy are more powerful when they impact every family member. Indiana's

federal representatives should support child savings accounts and financial

education for low-income students, while simultaneously removing asset limits

and encouraging prize-linked savings for parents, all key parts of Indiana's Assets &

Opportunity Network agenda. Meanwhile, Indiana should

be careful to protect existing policies such as the state's Earned Income Tax

Credit against attempts at 'simplification' that would strip away important

tools with little in return for working families.

This is just the tip of the iceberg: Indiana's policymakers

and advocates can immerse themselves in a whole arsenal of research

studies and policy proposals that provide options for customized state-based

two-generation solutions. Beyond that, stakeholders should stay tuned in late

2014 for the most up-to-date data and policy recommendations from the Institute's

upcoming 'Status of Working Families in Indiana' report. Armed with the data of

Indiana's decade-long, untreated crisis of child poverty and a full toolbox of

two-generation solutions, the state has no excuse not to make progress towards

reducing the poverty rate of Hoosier children and their families in 2015.

Andrew Bradley is a

senior policy analyst at the Indiana Institute for Working Families — a

program of the Indiana Community Action Association (INCAA) — The IIWA conducts

research and promotes public policies to help Hoosier families achieve and

maintain economic self-sufficiency.

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