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Obama, here's how to help the poor: Educate both parents and their children

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Further, these inequities fall along deep racial lines. In 2010, 47.6 percent of black and 50.3 percent of Hispanic single-mother families lived in poverty, compared with 32.7 percent of white and 30.1 percent of Asian single-mother families. These concentrations of poverty, the result of centuries of structural and even strategic racism, demand structural and strategic solutions.

Despite endless hand-wringing about the stubborn grip of poverty, solutions do exist. Quality early education and parents’ educational attainment are among the best predictors of economic mobility. This all adds up to a fairly intuitive and still little acknowledged approach: educate young children and their single mothers simultaneously and you create a real possibility for systemic change.

Programs operating with this philosophy have been popping up throughout the country for the last couple of decades, largely unnoticed. The Jeremiah Program, a nonprofit organization that receives a combination of foundation, corporate, and private funding, first started in Minneapolis in 1998 with a mission of eradicating poverty. After much deliberation, the program adopted a model to serve single mothers. They are given free housing. (Women pay 30 percent of their income for rent, which averages $135 per month). And they get life skills and job training while their children are given early education opportunities – all over a two- to three-year period.

The success is startling. Women apply and enter the program earning an average of $8.39 an hour and leave with career-track employment, earning an average livable wage of $15-16 an hour. Ninety percent of program graduates maintain consistent employment, and 55 percent go on to obtain a four-year degree. Ninety-five percent of alumnae mothers report that their children are performing at or above grade level. Jeremiah Program’s goal is to have a presence in 12 cities by 2020.

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