The United States workforce has an equity problem. As wealth inequality surges, a closer look at the workforce indicates that all workers are not starting in the same place. Even when individuals have access to education and training, structural inequality underpins barriers to employment and success.
In their report Race-Explicit Strategies for Workforce Equity in Healthcare and IT, Race Forward argues that “Dominant messages about personal responsibility… fail to recognize the historical and intergenerational way in which multiple systems, including not only workforce, but also education, housing, criminal justice and others, have created an inherent set of disadvantages for people of color.”
Knowing this, it is no surprise that low-paying jobs are also unevenly distributed across U.S. demographics. The Center for American Progress reports in A Design for Workforce Equity that “women and people of color at all education levels overwhelmingly make up most of the workforce in lower-paying jobs.”
As the door remains shut for opportunities that will lead to success, much of this wealth inequality is inherited. These systems become only more entrenched with each generation.
What is the 2Gen approach?
While women and people of color are disproportionately low-income, they are also more likely to head a single parent household. There’s a great deal of work to be done on a systemic level to address these disparities, but a two-generation (2Gen) approach can help families navigate and confront educational barriers.
2Gen programs aim to initiate an intergenerational cycle of success by including both the parent and the child in the learning process. Research shows that it is more likely for a child to succeed in education and employment when their parent succeeds, and vice versa.
These programs measure the success of both the parent and the child, both short-term and long-term, and collaborate with families to ensure a deep understanding of their goals and needs.
In the 2016 report Making Tomorrow Better Together, the Aspen Institute outlines the intended outcomes of this approach as educational success, workplace development and economic gains, social capital, and health and wellness. For parents, that would mean that educators engage them as partners in their learning, attain tools to advance in their careers, and strengthen their own mental health and resilience. These outcomes intersect with those of their children: Children have a positive model for their education and career, develop the capacity to succeed later in life, and strengthen their relationships to their family.
While the structural barriers to workforce opportunities must be addressed, family-led and family-centered approaches can strengthen their support system while building valuable skills for parents and children.
Impact on workforce opportunities
Such an approach improves the economic security of children and their parents, as parents are able to increase their earnings in the workforce and children learn the foundational skills to set them up for success in the workforce later in life.
Family literacy programming is defined within the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Title II Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (WIOA AEFLA) with a purpose of helping adults achieve foundational skills, acquire English language skills, learn about the education and development of their children, connect to schools and teachers, and engage in interactive literacy activities with their young or school-aged children. While AEFLA funds do not mandate family literacy activities, many states do require their state match funds to include family literacy programming.
In postsecondary education, community colleges with dedicated family-friendly spaces for student parents can be both meaningful and tremendously helpful for single mother students. In addition to being a welcoming message, children benefit from the exposure to their mother’s college experience, helping them to understand their mother’s activities and inspiring their own aspirations.
In the National College Transition Network (NCTN) report No Matter What Obstacles Comes My Way, we learn how the Los Angeles Valley College Family Resource Center took advantage of a remarkable opportunity to build a dedicated space for their program for single mother students. With a generous donation, the LAVC Family Resource Center gained a dedicated building next to the college’s new child development center. This space allows the FRC to provide counseling, workshops, tutoring, and study rooms in a family-friendly area where parents can bring their children with them.
This arrangement makes it much more feasible for a student parent to see a counselor, receive tutoring, or use on-campus computers, while their children benefit from playing with other children of all ages.
The educational success of single mothers has the potential to reap intergenerational benefits, forging a path for economic mobility and success for their families. NCTN’s project College Success for Single Mothers, funded by ECMC Foundation, is working with eight community colleges to identify the needs of single mother students on campus and develop a plan to enhance their college success and prepare them for the workforce.
With a deep understanding of the mutual success of single parents and their children, programs that account for the learning of both parents and children can start to break the cycle of poverty by strengthening the family as a whole. In this way, 2Gen strategies can set up long-term solutions for the systemic barriers to employment for women and people of color.