What if we paid our most at risk parents a minimum wage to go back to school to gain a high school diploma or gain employability skills while their children are in preschool? During the September Early Childhood Alliance meeting Governor Malloy floated this very idea. Some might find this idea absurd, but Connecticut is at a poverty crossroad and maybe it’s time to consider bold initiatives.
Poverty in Connecticut is reaching epidemic proportions. Despite various strategies and valiant efforts we are going backwards. In fact, over the past 25 years, childhood poverty has increased by 50%. Today, in Connecticut, almost 30% of the children are living in poverty or near poverty. For many of the most in need parents, a lack of education and the problem of illiteracy obstruct their personal and economic success, limit the pre-literacy skills of their children and contribute to a cycle of poverty that repeats through generations. This is not a small problem. Recent census data show that about 4,000 children are born in Connecticut each year to a mother that has not completed high school. Additionally 5,000 more children are born to a mother who has no education past high school.
When a parent does not have a high school diploma or career skills training then the chances of the family rising out of poverty are slim. In Connecticut 58% of mothers who did not complete high school are not securely employed. A large percentage of these families are living in poverty and receiving state assistance. The stresses of living in poverty have an effect on family, children and community. With today’s highly skilled workforce, there is little opportunity for career.
What is more disconcerting is that the chances for the children of undereducated parents to be successful in school are significantly impacted. Connecticut eighth grade proficiency tests show that of those children with a mother lacking high school, only 22 % demonstrate reading proficiency and only 14% demonstrate proficiency in math. 40% of these children don’t graduate from high school on time. The cycle of intergenerational poverty continues.
Yet parents living in poverty do not have the means to go back to school. Their only option is to work minimum wage unskilled jobs. They are often part time, include odd hours and have work schedules that vary from week to week. This does not allow for educational opportunity or workforce training that could lead to secure employment and financial independence, hardly a recipe for state prosperity.
So what if we recognize that all parents want their children to thrive and be successful. What if we take a leap of faith and encourage new thinking to help families navigate a way up and out of poverty?
We can turn a blind eye to our neighbors who have been born into poverty or we can stare families straight in the face and like Governor Malloy, imagine bold solutions.