Data on Families With Low Incomes Across America Can Inform Two-Generation Approaches

Recent research documents substantial declines in the United States’ poverty rate over the past several decades, including among children. This is very good news that showcases the success of many poverty prevention efforts. However, too many families continue to struggle to meet their basic needs, a challenge that may be exacerbated by increased costs of living, widening income inequality, and ongoing economic uncertainty. Moreover, upward economic mobility across generations remains limited: Children who grow up in the United States today are much less likely than children born in the 1940s to earn more income than their parents. As a broad prescription, it is critical that we continue anti-poverty efforts to ensure that poverty rates for families continue to decline and that opportunities for economic mobility improve.

A broad set of economic and social conditions are linked to a family’s ability to achieve economic security and mobility. In the United States, employment, most often achieved through education and training, is key to many families’ economic well-being.i However, families with low incomes are overrepresented in communities that offer fewer well-paying, stable jobs and in which high-quality education is less available. And some populations—for example, certain racial and ethnic groups and people with disabilities—face additional barriers to economic stability that result from both structural-level discrimination (e.g., inequitable policies and practices in housing, education, hiring, and the criminal justice system) and individual-level discrimination (e.g., harassment).

Research suggests that two-generation (2Gen) approaches can help interrupt the economic and social barriers to many families’ economic mobility and increased well-being and carry long-term benefits. (For more information on 2Gen approaches, see the dropdown feature below the key findings.) Child Trends conducted new analyses for this report, which provides a current data snapshot of some of the families in the United States who may be eligible for and benefit from 2Gen supports and services. Policymakers, researchers, and program evaluators should pay attention to these same data points in efforts to assess families’ needs and identify supports to help them thrive.


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