Two Generation Strategy

A New Approach to Breaking the Cycle of Generational Poverty in Philadelphia

Philadelphia’s poverty rate is 28%. Let me repeat that. Philadelphia’s poverty rate is 28%. For those who don’t know how to interpret that number, it is high. We are, and have been for some time, the poorest big city in the nation. In my own Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, the poverty rate is a whopping 46%. The poverty rate is 37% in Point Breeze, the neighborhood where I work. And these facts distress me every day. Our city should be embarrassed. However, that is a column for another time. I write today not to admonish the city for its shortcomings, but to propose a solution to our poverty problem. Maybe the city will join me and help to lead the effort.

The new approach is called a two generation strategy. Many municipalities and organizations, including my own, across the country are implementing two generation strategies that link quality early childhood education with quality workforce development services. There’s no secret to anyone involved in anti-poverty work that improving educational outcomes, improving work levels, and strengthening the family are major keys to reducing poverty. However, most anti-poverty programs focus on just one area when all three need to be addressed simultaneously. Likewise, many anti-poverty programs focus their efforts either on adults or children, but not both.

Research tells us that the biggest predictor of a child’s economic success is his/her parents’ level of educational attainment. According to the Brookings Institute, it takes about five generations for the advantages or disadvantages of family background to die in the U.S. That makes generational poverty a really tough nut to crack. I don’t believe Philadelphia can wait five generations to pull ourselves out of this jam.

That is why a two generation strategy is so important. The Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources says that the goal of a two generation strategy is to break the inter-generational cycle of poverty by moving the family toward economic security and stability through education, workforce training and related support services. Diversified Community Services is a multi-purpose nonprofit that provides quality, nationally accredited early childhood education in Point Breeze. But what makes it different from other quality childcare centers is that Diversified’s two generation strategy provides opportunities for both parents and children. This strategy provides economic supports, social supports, and peer support services for the entire family.

There are three key components to an effective two generation strategy and five important facilitating factors:


  • Quality Early Childhood Education
  • Sectoral Job Training
    • Post-secondary education
    • Workforce intermediaries
  • Wrap-around Family Support Services
    • Adult education and ESL
    • Peer community-building
    • Financial education
    • Transportation assistance

Facilitating Factors

1. Supportive Policy Framework – Allow two-generation investments to focus on families rather than just adults or just children.

2. Leadership – Every two generation strategy project needs a champion, a trailblazer, or a lead organization.

3. Workforce Intermediary – An approach to program administration that brings together employers, workers, and training partners to create pathways to family-supporting careers for low-skilled workers.

4. Integrated and Flexible Funding Streams – Think beyond traditional investments to identify opportunities to link, leverage, or otherwise capitalize on existing workforce and education training funding. Braided funding pulls together resources across a number of public, private, or nonprofit funding streams to meet the needs of participating families.

5. Evidence-Oriented Culture – Exists when policy makers collect and use data to understand the impacts of investments. Successful two-generation strategies require careful analyses of current conditions and family (parent + child) outcomes.

The city should consider implementing this approach on a larger citywide scale for one big reason: In 2007, Philadelphia’s poverty rate was 24%. By 2013, Philadelphia’s poverty rate has risen to 28%; maintaining its position as the nation’s poorest big city. We are clearly moving in the wrong direction.

Philadelphia cannot be a world class city with poverty rates this abysmal. It is time to reallocate our resources and consider new approaches. Change and innovation is exactly what Philadelphia needs.

Adopting a two generation strategy might be just what the doctor ordered.

Otis L. Bullock, Jr. is an attorney and Executive Director for Diversified Community Services, a children, youth, and family development nonprofit in Point Breeze.

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