On Monday, October 26th, the Michigan League for Public Policy held our annual meeting and public policy forum, “Secure Parents and Successful Kids.” We were joined by more than 250 people from around the state and a host of national and state experts and innovators in the fields of education, economic security and child well-being to discuss a two-generation approach to tackling poverty.
Our keynote speaker was Anne Mosle, who directs Ascend at the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C. Ascend is a national hub for breakthrough ideas and collaborations that move children and their parents towards educational success and economic security—the very definition of a two generation approach.
Anne began her presentation with a short video on the Jeremiah Program. Jeremiah provides single mothers and their children with a safe, affordable place to live, quality early childhood education, life skills training and support for career-track education. The video summarizes the dilemma many low-income families face, and how two generation strategies can help. Oftentimes these families are so focused on surviving and getting by that they are unable to succeed and move up. But if they have support in the moment, they can start planning for and building toward the future.
As Anne stated, we have to meet people where they are and develop a plan for where they want to go. Equity doesn’t just happen. It has to be an intentional commitment instead. For example, $3,000 in extra family income can increase a child’s economic trajectory by over 20%.
Anne and her colleagues at Ascend have put together a booklet, Top Ten for 2Gen, that includes policy ideas and principles to advance two-generation efforts. It outlines the keys to success and stability that all families need, and they are the same areas where the League is working in Michigan: early education, postsecondary education and employment pathways, health and well-being, social capital and economic assets.
Anne’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion on two-generation policies and approaches in Michigan with Tim Becker, chief deputy director, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services; Carol Goss, former CEO of the Skillman Foundation; Dr. Ali Webb, director of Michigan programs, W.K. Kellogg Foundation; and Mindy Ysasi, executive director, The SOURCE.
Tim Becker shared a presentation on the “River of Opportunity” and noted that it is in his department and the state’s best interest to try a two generation approach to better help children and families together. Having worked in human resources for some of the state’s leading organizations, Mindy Ysasi said that workplace policy is a key area where a two generation approach is needed and that “the people who need the most flexibility have the least flexibility.”
The panel also delved into Michigan’s political climate and racial inequity. The League also recently examined the racial disparities in the state budget that are perpetuating poverty for people of color in Michigan.
A large focus of the discussion was that everyone’s work on poverty and two generation policies is still largely dependent on the Legislature and the budget. Dr. Ali Webb and Carol Goss talked about the efforts of foundations like theirs, but that it is not enough without policy changes at the state level. Michigan’s state budget of a couple hundred billion can have way more of an impact than any one foundation.
Research shows that two-generation programs and policies are a win-win for children, their families and the state, and should have universal appeal to nonprofit and service organizations and elected officials. The League’s public policy forum was a good start, but there is much work ahead to truly start implementing two generation policies in Michigan.
— Gilda Z. Jacobs