State Policies through a Two-Generation Lens
Strengthening the Collective Impact of Policies that Affect the Life Course of Young Children and their Parents
This is an excerpt from the full brief.
Two-generation approaches to promoting the healthy development
and school success of young children aim to enhance the well-being
and life opportunities of both parents and children.1 This approach is based on
research that shows how conditions affecting both parents and
children are interrelated and play a key role in children’s
development. For example, health insurance for parents matters for
children’s well-being since parents’ health and mental
health problems can reduce parenting capacities and the chance that
young children will receive the consistent attention and
stimulation they need to develop competencies that are key to
school success.2 Similarly, children’s
experience of stable, high quality early care and education
supports both children’s early learning and parents’
Several innovative two-generation programs that support the well-being and life chances of both children and parents are being developed and tested. In promising initiatives around the country, including model programs in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Tulsa, Oklahoma, young children are enrolled in high quality preschool programs while their parents receive education and training in high demand jobs that help move families toward greater economic security.4 Leading scholars view emerging two-generation models as particularly promising because they are informed by research on components of these models that contribute to desired outcomes; these include high-quality learning experiences for children in early care and education programs and employment training for parents that helps them acquire skills needed for higher wage jobs.5
At a time when a new wave of two-generation programs shows
promise, it is important to consider how to strengthen policies
that can provide two-generation supports to large numbers of
families with young children. Multiple policies affect both young
children and their parents, including policies that determine
safety net benefits, wages, and access to high-quality child care
and health care.6 Consequently, two-generation
supports for low-income families can best be understood by
considering the collective impact of key policies on the
experiences of young children and their parents. In all states, the
influence of policies that collectively affect families with young
children is mixed. Some policies contribute to positive
two-generation supports while others are likely to detract from
these supports. An example illustrates this mixed impact. In a
Georgia family headed by a single mother, a young child benefits
from a state-funded prekindergarten program which was found to
promote children’s early learning in a recent evaluation.7 But this family experiences
economic hardship as a result of the parent’s low-wage job
and high out-of-pocket health care expenses. Georgia, like 47 other
states, has not set its minimum wage at a level that would bring a
family of three above the federal poverty line, and it is also one
of 21 states currently opting out of the Medicaid expansion allowed
under the Affordable Care Act, which provides health insurance to
Of course, many other state policies contribute to a collective two-generation impact on families. Table 1 shows a range of policy choices across the states in three areas: early care and education, health, and supports for parenting and family economic security.9 The table provides a view of policies’ collective two-generation impact on conditions affecting families with young children, and illustrates the value of looking at policies across multiple domains to consider their collective impact.
1. Lombardi, J., Mosle, A., Patel, N., Schumacher, R., & Stedron, J. (2014). Gateways to two generations: The potential for early childhood programs and partnerships to support children and parents together. Washington, DC: The Aspen Institute.
2. Glied, S., & Oellerich, D. (2014). Two-generation programs and health. The Future of Children, 24(1), 79-99.
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2009). Maternal depression can undermine the development of young children: Working paper No. 8. http://www.developingchild.harvard.edu (accessed August 28, 2014).
National Research Council. (2002). Health insurance is a family matter. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
3. Adams, G., Rohacek, M., & Danziger, A. (2010). Child care instability: Definitions, context, and policy implications. Urban Institute: Washington, DC.
4. King, C. T., Coffey, R., & Smith, T. C. (2013). Promoting two-generation strategies: A getting-started guide for state and local policy makers. Austin, TX: Ray Marshall Center; New York, NY: Foundation for Child Development.
Mosle, A. & Patel, N. (2012). Two Generations, one future: Moving parents and children beyond poverty together. Washington, DC: The Aspen Institute.
5. Chase-Lansdale, L. P., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2014). Two-generation programs in the twenty-first century. The Future of Children 24(1), 13-41.
6. Schmit, S., Matthews, H., & Golden, O. (2014). Thriving children, successful parents: A two-generation approach to policy. Washington, DC: Center for Law and Social Policy.
7. Peisner-Feinberg, E., Schaaf, J., & LaForett, D. (2013). Children’s growth and classroom experiences in Georgia’s pre-k program. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute.
8. Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. (2014). Status of state action on the medicaid expansion decision. http://kff.org/health-reform/state-indicator/state-activity-around-expanding-medicaid-under-the-affordable-care-act/ (accessed August 28, 2014).
A parent working full-time with two children under age 18 needs to earn at least $9.10 per hour in order to live above the United States Census Bureau’s 2013 poverty threshold of $18,769.
The following states have passed laws to increase their minimum wage above $9.10 per hour in the coming years: California (in 2016), Connecticut (in 2015), Hawaii (in 2017), Maryland (in 2017), Massachusetts (in 2016), Michigan (in 2018), and Vermont (in 2015).
National Conference of State Legislatures. (2014). State minimum wages: 2014 minimum wages by state. Washington, DC: NCSL. http://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/state-minimum-wage-chart.aspx (accessed August 28, 2014).
9. National Center for Children in Poverty. (2014). Early childhood profiles. http://www.nccp.org/profiles/early_childhood.html (accessed August 28, 2014).