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In order to help its many low-income families, Mississippi must focus on aiding the family as a whole and take a “two-generation approach” to ending poverty, a new report says.

More than half the state’s children are members of low-income families, a status that has far-reaching consequences beyond poor housing and poor schools. It traps whole families in a cycle of poverty, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT report released today.

“Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach,” examines the economic and educational barriers facing people living in poverty. It encourages a wide coordination of services that could help both parents and children receive support.

“It’s particularly stressful for families who live in poverty to find quality housing, child care and transportation,” Linda Southward, director of Mississippi KIDS COUNT said. “In order for us to address the needs of child, we must understand the fact that we need to help the families. By helping families, we’re also helping children.”

In Mississippi, 58 percent of children live in low-income families while the national average is 45 percent. According to the report, families that live in poverty are less likely to have access to high performing schools and have much higher stress levels in the home.

The report also details consequences for adults in low-income families in the state where nearly 80 percent don’t have a college degree. Without some higher education, parents are stuck in low-paying jobs. These jobs often make it difficult to afford or schedule child care. For parents with children under 8 years old, 17 percent said child care is a major issue. Many “say child care problems led to changing, quitting or simply not taking a job, ” the report found.

Nationally, 31 percent of low-income children five or under are at risk of serious learning delays due to lack of exposure to child care or early education programs. In Mississippi the number is even higher, at 38 percent.

Related: Mississippi finally funds statewide pre-K — but only for six percent of its youngest learners

But, Patrice Cromwell of the Casey Foundation, warns child care and preschool are only part of the picture.

“Poverty can have huge consequences on children,” she said. “Even if we can invest in early childhood and education, if children are living in unstable families, that instability can have a big effect.

The report’s “two-generation approach” means state and federal agencies and child advocacy groups should look at the big picture.

It suggests that states create ways that families succeed as individuals and a unit. This means providing more job-training or apprenticeships, educational and career opportunities, and increasing the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income parents so they can keep more of what they earn.

A way public and private systems can work together is to connect parents with services like financial coaching, or to track low-income children and identify them for other resources. The report used Louisiana as an example of how the two-generation approach works for the whole family. The state tracks children who qualify for food stamps and automatically enrolls them in health insurance plans.

The report also suggested that early education programs like Head Start “pilot programs that connect parents with education and job training,” so while children are in school their parents can learn about opportunities as well.

Cromwell said low-income families will continue to be trapped in poverty unless governments and agencies start to make changes work together to create solutions.

“This two-generation approach is looking to create much better outcomes so that families have mobility options to create a better future for their kids and themselves at the same time,” Cromwell said.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about Mississippi.

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  1. Maybe Mississippi should focus on the whole damn state. There’s a reason poor states always do worse than rich ones.

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