BUILDing Strong Foundations

From Dissonance to Consensus: The Quest to Decrease Poverty Becomes a Uniting Force

2/16/2016 12:00:00 AM
Posted by: Amielle Major

By Ruth Trombka
Editor and Writer, BUILD Initiative

"More than 16 million children in the United States – 22% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level – $23,550 a year for a family of four. Research shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using this standard, 45% of children live in low-income families.” [1]

In December, the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute published “Opportunity, Responsibility, and Security: A Consensus Plan for Reducing Poverty and Restoring the American Dream,” a plan to ameliorate one of our country’s most deeply-rooted problems. The plan is distinctive in that it addresses poverty by simultaneously focusing on issues related to family, work, and education. It discusses “alarming trends [including] the increasing gap in educational achievement between poor kids and rich kids; the increase in families headed by only one parent; the decline of work among men, especially young black men; unstable work and work hours; stagnating wages; and high rates of incarceration...” Also noteworthy is that the plan provides solutions to a problem that, up to now, has not been dealt with effectively. A recent New York Times article points out that its, ”…collection of proposals — from promoting strong and stable families to improving the quantity and quality of work — actually adds up to a coherent approach to improving an anti-poverty strategy that has fallen far short of its goals.”

A Rare Show of Unity

But it is the story between the lines that must be underscored. The plan was produced by expert economists, sociologists and psychologists on opposite sides of the aisle — leaders in their fields who identify as conservatives, progressives, centrists and nonpartisans. They declared in unison that, “Poverty and opportunity are profoundly consequential and…our nation’s future prosperity and our common humanity compel us to work together to find credible strategies to reduce poverty and increase economic mobility.” [2] As the Times article suggested in response to the plan, it could be that the issue of poverty in this country, “…the deepest among advanced industrialized nations, may have finally become salient enough for the left and right to break through the ideological gridlock.”  

The trends noted in the plan are not new to early childhood advocates familiar with the closely linked issues leading to poor outcomes for so many children. But that a plan with bipartisan support came to light in an era of unprecedented dissonance and division in Washington is momentous. In the same month, the House and Senate passed a spending bill that added nearly $1 billion in federal investments to early childhood for 2016. When it comes to our youngest children, it is unusual and wonderful to see partisanship eclipsed by solid suggestions.

Some of the Proposals

The plan shows agreement on the importance of universally available quality pre-K and makes recommendations for improving child care quality, expanding home visiting, and expanding the role of primary and preventive health services in strengthening parenting. The plan includes some approaches  we don’t agree with and leaves out others we support. For example, we believe the two-generation approach speaks to the needs of children and families; rather than promoting separate parent-focused and child-focused programs, it addresses both groups at the same time and may have better outcomes. However, we are pleased by the distinguished group uniting to promote a bipartisan agenda to reduce poverty and support families and their children. It merits dialogue.

Our Job is Not Finished

Early childhood advocates certainly have reason to take a deep breath. Our hard work is helping to convince others that providing early education is key to reducing poverty. But bipartisanship is fleeting and fragile. This is no time to relax our efforts or to delude ourselves into believing that the current unity over early childhood education will be permanent. There is too little time for the plan to become legislation during the current administration, so it is up to the field to ensure that the next administration maintains a focus on poverty and considers the best solutions—solutions that address root causes and fund the state infrastructure necessary to sustain improvements. We are closer right now than ever before to early childhood education becoming a national priority. We need to continue to build on the momentum that brought us to this point on behalf of the most consequential bipartisan issue of all: the future of our youngest children.


 

[1] "Child Poverty." National Center for Children in Poverty. Web. 09 Feb. 2016. <http://www.nccp.org/>.

[2] "OPPORTUNITY, RESPONSIBILITY, AND SECURITY A CONSENSUS PLAN FOR REDUCING POVERTY AND RESTORING THE AMERICAN DREAM." The Brookings Institution. Web. 09 Feb. 2016. <http://www.brookings.edu.

 


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