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The Implications of Parents' Employment for their Children

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Parent's (and especially mother's) work is not always beneficial for their children.

In the Future of Children, Carolyn J. Heinrich explains that working parents can be positive role models for their children, and the income they earn can improve their children's lives. However, work can impair the developing bond between parents and young children (especially when parents work long hours or evening and night shifts); and stress that parents bring home can have a negative effect on parenting and the quality of the home environment, and thereby induce stress into children's lives.

It seems that the balance between work and family ought to be of utmost concern to policy makers, especially in relation to low-income parents who are most likely to work in stressful jobs with few or no benefits, but what is the solution?

Heinrich points to two-generation interventions as a possibility to maximize the benefits and minimize the detriments of parents' work.  She mentions the Career Advance program, which was recently highlighted by National Public Radio, as an example of a two-generation intervention that targets parents with children in Head Start for workforce development services.  This and similar programs focus on high-quality childhood education, job training that helps parents upgrade their workforce skills as well as family and peer support services. She explains that if these programs help parents secure better jobs that improve how they feel about their work and the role models and encouragement they offer to their children, then their children may reap benefits beyond those from just the education and stronger financial supports families realize from program participation.

To learn more about how two-generation programs can help families, see the latest issue of Future of Children, Helping Parents, Helping Children: Two-Generation Mechanisms.

The Promise of Two-Generation Programs

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This week, the Future of Children released a new issue titled Helping Parents, Helping Children: Two-Generation Mechanisms. As the executive summary says, "because the home environment is so important for children's development, many people think that 'two-generation' programs, which serve parents and children simultaneously with high-quality interventions, can be more effective (and perhaps more efficient) than programs that serve them individually." These programs generally entail parents enrolling in education or job training at the same time they enroll their children in high-quality child care. The issue explores six mechanisms, or pathways, through which parents and the home environment may influence children's development--stress, education, health, income, employment, and assets--to discover how we might best use these mechanisms to bolster two-generation programs.

A recent story in the Washington Post, which highlights findings from our issue, describes the two-generation approach, especially as it relates to alleviating poverty. It features Future of Children Senior Editor Ron Haskins, who remarks that although it is too early to tell whether the two-generation approach is effective in alleviating poverty, it certainly shows promise. P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, co-author of one paper in the issue, describes in the story how it is unreasonable for the child to be the only point of intervention when a family is going through difficult times: "Those gains [from childhood intervention alone] may not be enough if a child is coming home to a family with great hopes, but is stressed by making ends meet, working multiple jobs, looking for work or facing food insecurity." To lift a child out of poverty, the family likely needs help as well.

The quality of the home environment and parent-child relationships are crucial for children's development because they have lasting effects into adulthood and carry intergenerational implications. We invite you to explore the two-generation mechanisms and programs found in this issue of the Future of Children.

A Counterintuitive Approach to Reducing Poverty

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Can government successfully intervene to raise incomes and reduce poverty? It's a heated but critical question. While social welfare programs, such as SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid, help lift low-income families out of poverty, in some cases they can produce a disincentive to make more money--known as the "cliff effect"--in which a modest increase in income could mean an equal or greater decrease in welfare benefit. In other words, some families could be worse off financially if they accept a small raise at work.

This is obviously problematic, but what is the solution?

Future of Children author Gordon L. Berlin suggests expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which was created to increase work incentives among the poor by reducing the federal taxes they owe and refunding any leftover tax credit through yearly tax returns. For those filing taxes this year, the maximum EITC for a family with three children is approximately $6,000, while those without children can receive a maximum of approximately $500. As President Obama acknowledged in his 2014 State of the Union Address, "few [policies] are more effective at reducing inequality and helping families pull themselves up through hard work ... but it doesn't do enough for single workers who don't have kids."

Berlin's policy recommendation addresses this concern. He argues for increasing the credit for all low-wage workers aged 21 to 54 who work full time--regardless of whether they have children or whether they are married, though the largest benefits would accrue to two-parent households in which both adults can work full-time. This policy would reduce poverty without distorting work incentives, as the earning supplement would progressively decrease with higher income. In effect, it could help transform a "cliff" into a steady slope of opportunity.

To learn more about this proposed policy, including how it could be paid for, see the Future of Children issue on The Next Generation of Anti-Poverty Strategies. We will return the topic of EITC expansion and how it can help children in our Spring 2014 Future of Children issue, "Helping Parents, Helping Children: Two-Generation Mechanisms."

Family Relationships Following the Great Recession

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Research from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study suggests that stress or uncertainty about external circumstances can impact family relationships. One recent study by Dohoon Lee, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Sara McLanahan, Daniel Notterman, and Irwin Garfinkel finds that mothers used more harsh parenting practices, such as corporal punishment, following the Great Recession. Moreover, macroeconomic conditions like consumer sentiment (that is, how people feel generally about the economy), rather than actual conditions (for example, local unemployment rate), are associated with harsh parenting.

 

Findings from another study suggest that macroeconomic stress has caused couples to delay or forego separation or divorce, especially among those hardest hit by the recession. Based on research presented in the Future of Children suggesting positive outcomes of marriage for children, such a finding could have good implications for low-conflict families but serious consequences for families experiencing violence or abuse.

 

Future of Children authors Philip A. Cowan, Carolyn Pape Cowan, and Virginia Knox explain that some low-income family intervention programs have begun to address how parents and partners can cope with the stress and uncertainty caused by external circumstances such as a dragging economy. The authors highlight one such program that has had encouraging early results. Participants in the Supporting Healthy Marriage project, a yearlong marriage and relationship education program for couples with children, report less abuse, more positive communication, and greater marital happiness than control-group counterparts.

 

With the proportion of children born to unmarried mothers at more than 40 percent, similar programs for unmarried couples with children are being evaluated. One such project called Building Strong Families found little evidence of relationship quality improvement among participants, but Cowan and colleagues indicate that more analyses are needed to understand these findings. Research on the challenges that unmarried families face can be found in the Future of Children issue on Fragile Families. Also see our issue The Next Generation of Antipoverty Policies.

 

A Culture of Flexibility

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In the US, employees with more education and higher salaries generally have greater access to workplace flexibility (for example, time off, adjustable schedules, etc.) than do low-wage workers. But even among those who have access, write Future of Children authors Ellen Galinsky, Kelly Sakai, and Tyler Wigton, the culture surrounding flexibility may deter employees from taking advantage of it. Sixty-one percent of employees believe they would be less likely to get ahead in their jobs if they asked for flexibility.

 

Workplace flexibility is important for both women and men, but it is especially important for mothers of young children. Princeton University's Ann-Marie Slaughter argues that mothers in professional or leadership positions will not be able to successfully juggle work and family until workplace norms and values allow for more balance. Consistent with this view, Gallinsky, Sakai, and Wigton report that the higher employees climb the professional ladder, the more likely they are to agree that they have had to choose between advancing in their jobs and devoting time to family life.

 

This month, research by the New York Times suggests that many working mothers, especially those with young children, may not be aspiring to top leadership positions. Though half of all mothers in the US work full time, a recent poll shows that only a quarter would choose to work full-time if they had the freedom to do whatever they wanted. Thus, for some women workplace flexibility may be more important than career advancement.


Changing the culture of workplace flexibility is an important first step for improving work-family balance. Gallinsky, Sakai, and Wigton outline several strategies for increasing flexibility. Developed by the Families and Work Institute, these strategies include community collaboration and educational events, media outreach, and measuring results. The details of these strategies, along with research and policy recommendations for workplace flexibility, can be found in the Future of Children issue on Work and Family.

The Transition to Adulthood for Children with Disabilities

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Prior Future of Children research underlines the challenges faced by youth approaching adulthood, particularly among those from disadvantaged backgrounds with no postsecondary education on the horizon. Even thornier is the pathway to adulthood for youth from more vulnerable populations such as those challenged with a chronic illness, mental health issues, or physical disabilities. A recent study highlighted by CBS News indicates that one in three young adults with autism has completed no college or technical schooling and has no paid work experience seven years after graduating high school. This is urgent news considering that roughly half a million autistic children will be reaching adulthood in the next ten years.


Recognizing the importance of education for children with disabilities before and throughout the transition to adulthood, the United States has made many advances in special education over the past few decades. The special education system gives children with disabilities greater access to public education and provides an infrastructure for their schooling. Moreover, some services even extend through early adulthood, which is more than can be said for other vulnerable populations. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that secondary schools develop individualized transition plans including long-term education goals, vocational training, and general life skills.


Despite these advancements in special education, Laudan Aron and Pamela Loprest indicate in their chapter Disability and the Education System, that many problems remain, including the over- and under-identification of some subgroups of students, delays in providing service to students, as well as bureaucratic and financial barriers that often complicate effective service provision. In addition, some needed services may not be available when children have reached adulthood. A recent article in US News and World Report indicates that families of children with autism often describe leaving high school as "falling off a cliff" because of the lack of services for adults on the autism spectrum.


Providing these children with needed support before and after the transition to adulthood has substantial immediate and long-term economic costs and benefits. A recent article in CNN Health reports that out-of-pocket medical expenses are growing fastest among Americans 18 years old and younger. The Future of Children volume, Children with Disabilities indicates that these expenses are higher among families caring for a child with a special health care need. In their chapter, The Economic Costs of Childhood Disability, Mark Stabile and Sara Allin suggest that due to these high costs to children and families, the benefits of effective interventions to prevent and reduce childhood disability might well outweigh the societal costs of such programs.


On May 23, 2012, the Anderson Center for Autism hosted an event for more than 350 practitioners and parents, which featured research from the Future of Children's Children with Disabilities volume, and discussed effective early interventions for children with disabilities. For more discussion on evidence-based policies and intervention programs for special needs children and those making the transition to adulthood, see the Future of Children volumes Children with Disabilities and Transition to Adulthood. Add your voice by commenting on the Future of Children blog.




The Child Support Connection: Giving Children a Brighter Future

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Scholars, service providers, and city government officials filed into CUNY Graduate Center yesterday to take part in a discussion on the wellbeing of children and families in New York City, co-sponsored by the Future of Children, the New York City Office of Child Support Enforcement, and CUNY.

 

 "The heart of the community is the family. We at the Office of Child Support Enforcement [OCSE] are about work and we are about families," said Federal Commissioner for the Office of Child Support Enforcement Vicki Turetsky in her opening remarks. Child support is not only an important anti-poverty strategy for children but has also been positively associated with other important child outcomes, like academic achievement.

 

Executive Deputy Commissioner of NYC's Human Resources Administration Frances Pardus-Abbadessa explained that automated child support collection is working effectively for the majority of parents. However, traditional enforcement tools have been less effective for the approximately 25 percent of parents who owe child support, but have limited ability to pay. Approximately 70 percent of unpaid child support debt is owed by parents earning no or low-reported income.

 

Columbia University's Irwin Garfinkel and Rutgers University's Lenna Nepomnyaschy, working with data from Princeton's Fragile Families study, showed that the vast majority of parents want to be engaged and financially supportive in their child's life at his or her birth. But that involvement declines over time, which is when child support plays an increasingly important role.

 

How can systems better connect with the families and parents that are the most difficult to reach?

 

The group divided into three breakout sessions: one focused on family wellbeing, another focused on incarceration, and a third focused on employment.

 

The groups returned with a few suggestions:

 

--Find ways to connect parents to employment. Incentivize the placement of formerly incarcerated parents for employers and workforce development agencies and continue policies and programs that cap child support debt for incarcerated parents.

 

--Increase efforts to involve fathers in their children's lives from birth, and build OCSE mediation programs to encourage better coparenting relationships. As keynote speaker Princeton's Hillard Pouncy suggested, engaged fathers will be more likely to contribute financially.

 

--Continue finding ways to improve the image of the child support system through collaborations with workforce agencies, fatherhood programs, domestic violence coalitions, mediation and parenting services, and social service organizations.

 

Additional and more specific recommendations were offered and discussed by a panel including Larry Mead of New York University, Commissioner of the NYC Human Resources Administration Robert Doar, Vicki Turetsky, and the Center for Court Innovation's Liberty Aldrich. Breakout session speakers included Maureen Waller of Columbia University, James McHale of the University of South Florida, Petersburg, Mark Kleiman of Community Mediation Services, George T. McDonald of the Doe Fund, Kathleen Coughlin from NYC's Department of Probation, Amanda Geller of Columbia University, Virginia Cruickshank of F.E.G.S., Elaine Sorenson from The Urban Institute and James Riccio of MDRC.

 

For more information on this topic, visit the Future of Children's Fragile Families volume, specifically the chapter by Robert Lerman on Capabilities and Contributions of Unwed Fathers.

Workplace Flexibility: The Next Anti-Poverty Strategy

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In conjunction with National Work and Family month, on Wednesday, October 5, Princeton-Brookings released a new volume of the Future of Children entitled Work and Family.

 

"The dilemma that we face is that parents act as the hub of service delivery for their children and elderly relatives. They provide direct care themselves, and they also coordinate other care that their family members receive...  But most parents and most elder caregivers are also employed, and that leads to work-family conflict," opened issue editor Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University at the Brookings Institution event.

 

Three demographic changes have increased work-family conflicts for both mothers and fathers: mothers' continued entry into the workforce, high divorce rates, and the growing elderly population. And unlike other nations with advanced economies, the U.S. has very modest government policies requiring employers to give their workers benefits such as paid family leave and child care. The United States federal government provides only unpaid leave - and only for some parents - to care for newborns or sick family members and most parents do not qualify for government child care programs.

 

Work and Family shows that providing short to moderate periods of paid parental leave (from three to twelve months) for all workers, is likely to have positive benefits for child and family wellbeing, and is unlikely to have negative repercussions in the labor market. It also explains the ways that increasing access to high-quality early childhood education and care could ease work-family conflicts and promote sizable gains in school readiness for disadvantaged children.

 

But, given the difficult state of the American economy and the large, growing federal deficit, what can we realistically expect from federal policy makers in this area?

 

Rather than focus on broad policy change, discussions at the Brookings Institution event focused on the role that state and local governments, as well as employers, might play in helping families deal with the demands of work, namely, by promoting workplace flexibility.

 

"Allowing employees more control over their hours and more flexibility to adjust hours or work location when family demands arise can lead to increased employee productivity, satisfaction, and retention. Far from representing a cost to employers, such policies, if well designed to take into account the needs of both employers and employees, can yield benefits," notes Work and Family, a finding which was echoed at Brookings by Ernst & Young's Flexibility Strategy Leader Maryella Gockel and volume author and Co-Founder and President of the Families and Work Institute Ellen Galinsky.

 

Unfortunately, as Galinsky, Waldfogel, and Brookings' Ron Haskins all mentioned, low-income employees, who often have the greatest need for workplace flexibility, generally have the least access to it.

 

Heather Boushey, volume author and Senior Economist at the Center for American Progress, took this point further, suggesting that workplace flexibility is the 'next step' in anti-poverty policy.

 

 "We did all that work on welfare reform in the 1990's," said Boushey, "that encouraged low income individuals, especially women, to work... and so [workplace flexibility] must be the next step, right? We want that single Mom in the workplace, but we have to make sure that she can stay in the workplace, that she can hold on to her job while taking care of her children." Employer flexibility policies that allow parents flexible time off when children are sick, paid sick leave when parents themselves are sick, and leave arrangements for the birth of a child can help low-income individuals maintain their income, and hopefully head off poverty. 

 

Employers can enact such policies voluntarily and relatively quickly. The Families and Work Institute provides guidelines that can help guide employers as they implement workplace flexibility: http://familiesandwork.org/site/work/workforce/main.html.


And there is also a role for local and state policy makers to play. Over the past few months, even in the depths of this recession, paid sick days were enacted into law in the state of Connecticut, in the city of Seattle, and passed in the city of Philadelphia (although not yet signed by the mayor).

 

For more information on the volume, go to: www.futureofchildren.org. Click here for a full transcript of the Brookings Institution event.

Workplace Flexibility: A Solution for a Time-Starved Nation?

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As indicated in the new Work and Family volume of Future of Children, American society's composition and family roles have changed dramatically since Leave It to Beaver, with the majority of American women employed outside the home, an explosion of single-parent families, and older Americans increasingly needing care from younger relatives. These changes greatly complicate the challenges of meeting family responsibilities while holding down a job, note journal editors Sara McLanahan of Princeton, Jane Waldfogel of Columbia, and Brookings senior fellow Ron Haskins.


As demographics have changed, so have workplaces, which may have negative consequences for children and families. Today, one out of five employed Americans works varying hours or works outside the standard hours of 8 to 4 more than half the time. Parents who work nonstandard hours spend less time with each other and with their children. Moreover, mothers' nonstandard hours are linked to lower cognitive scores among preschoolers.


Increasing workplace flexibility - the availability of work schedules that allow for balance between family and work - is one logical solution that employers can voluntarily implement to ease work-family tensions. Although some research has suggested that this may still impact parents' career growth, evidence of the benefits continues to mount. Researchers find that greater access to flexibility is linked to higher job satisfaction, engagement, and employee health. One example underscored by Work and Family is a Houston, Texas community effort. Through the promotion of workplace flexibility, the city reduced traffic congestion, lessened pollution, and helped employers increase productivity. 

 

The best workers may be attracted to family-friendly workplaces, and often that provides an incentive for change.  For example, The White House and National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced the "NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative," a ten-year plan to support American scientists and their families. New workplace flexibility policies will allow researchers to postpone or suspend grants for up to one year for parental leave, childbirth, and adoption. The new policies will make it easier for women to pursue careers in engineering and science. NSF plans to support research on workplace flexibility policies and calls on other research institutes and universities to adopt similar policies.

Tackling Poverty and Unemployment: A New York Example

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More people are living below the official poverty line ($22,314 for a family of four in 2010) than have been since the Census Bureau began publishing data on it, reports The New York Times. Over two and a half million dropped below this line last year, bringing the number of poor Americans to 46.2 million. A crumbling economy and shifting demographics are among the reasons for this increase, but according to economists, unemployment is the biggest issue, as 48 million people ages 18 to 64 did not work a single week last year.

While the effects of unemployment and a weak economy are felt by many, the hardest hit are racial and ethnic minorities, particularly blacks and Latinos, whose poverty levels are at 27% and 26% respectively. Explained in The Future of Children volume The Next Generation of Antipoverty Policies, of particular concern are nonwhite young men. In few locations is this more evident than in New York City, where one study of five boroughs found the poverty rate for black and Latino young men to be 50 percent higher, and the unemployment rate 60 percent higher, than that of their white and Asian counterparts.

According to the Huffington Post, one factor that might play a part in the high unemployment rates for these young men is the high percentage of racial and ethnic minorities now incarcerated. One in eight black males in their twenties is in prison or jail on any given day. Devah Pager, Princeton University professor and research associate for the Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, reports that within one year after release, up to 75 percent of ex-convicts are still without work.

These figures represent a crisis that New York City Deputy Mayor Gibbs says demands an urgent response, "New York City is going to send a signal that the situation facing young black and Latino men requires the same kind of aggressive, cross-agency response that a natural disaster would demand, because fixing these outcomes is critical to the City's health and future." The "signal" he refers to is the initiation of a public-private partnership presented by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg early last month in an effort to cut down barriers to employment. The strategy, dubbed the Young Men's Initiative, involves investments of over $127 million over the next three years into policies and programs that will connect young men in the City to educational, employment, and mentoring opportunities, and will include an overhaul of the Department of Probation, which supervises nearly 30,000 New Yorkers, most of whom are black and Latino men.

An important component of Mayor Bloomberg's initiative, as highlighted by the Huffington Post, is new policy regarding the hiring process for City positions. City agencies are to prohibit questions about prior convictions from the initial job interview; only after this first stage will applicants be asked about their criminal history. They must still submit themselves to a background check, but their offenses will be examined in view of the job requirements.

In the past, some opposition has been reported for these so-called "Ban-the-Box" policies, which have been practiced in other states and major cities. Business owners may not consider it wise to invest resources toward applicants, only to find they have a criminal record and choose not to hire them. Still, the purpose of such policy is to help young adults get a leg up, many of whom are otherwise good candidates for some positions. As Washington works to tackle the nation's unemployment in an effort to prevent more from slipping below the poverty line, could they benefit from looking to cities like New York as an example? The Future of Children's Transition to Adulthood volume stresses the need to provide opportunities to those who are willing to work but have difficulty finding steady employment because of a criminal history or other circumstances. Some of these include extending the age of eligibility of youth-serving programs into young adulthood and moving from a set of independent systems into a single integrated system.

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