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

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America should be focused on equipping its most vulnerable citizens with the tools necessary for economic mobility. And those vulnerable citizens are invariably children and single mothers. Though the strained economy has been hard on Americans across the board, a whopping 40.7 percent of single parent households are struggling below the poverty line – the majority being single-mother households.

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.

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