The best way to lift kids out of poverty (it’s NOT education)

Education does not lift kids out of poverty. In fact, education does nothing to overcome the close correlation between the parent’s earnings and a child’s earnings. Poverty persistence is nearly unbeatable.

In that vein, it doesn’t matter if you put a poor kid in a top school or a top student in a terrible school. Their earning power will be that of their parents. Also, it doesn’t matter whose genes you have. Your earning power is environmental.

Researchers have found that poverty can harm the brains of small children. Low-income families had a brain surface area on average 6 percent smaller than that of children in high-income families. Jack Shonkoff, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education says neuroscience shows us the opportunity where we can make a big difference for poor children.

But we are not using that opportunity. Instead, we are sending them to school even though we know that doesn’t work. And, horrifyingly, we are developing programs to make poor kids do more school than rich kids.

We push low-income parents to put their kids in full-day school so their kids don’t fall behind. But that’s not working because kids need what they get from an individual caretaker rather than a group setting. We push poor kids to go to school all summer, while the rich kids are getting engaging, specialized teaching at camp.

What can we do to change the cycle of poverty? A wide body of research shows teaching poor parents to stimulate their children can have significant, long-term impact on the kids’ earning power.

The amount of time a father spends with young children has long-term impact on brain development. For example,  a father’s presence in a baby’s life improves the child’s vocabulary, in a ways that a constant daycare provider or school teacher does not. And a father’s presence makes his daughter go through puberty later which is a touchpoint for future success.

Middle class parents are more likely to teach kids how to assert themselves. Which means poor kids are less likely to ask questions in class and more likely to ask for help after school. Also, middle class parents are more likely to see themselves as equal to or superior to teachers so they push back on the school to protect their kids.

A striking op-ed from a minority student from the Ivy League talks about how even if you can get into a great school, rich parents expose their kids to a much wider world  than poor parents and that has a huge impact on graduation rates. The difference between rich and poor parenting never ends, no matter how smart (or not) you are.

The rich-poor gap is growing because there’s a growing gap between amount of time and attention rich and poor parents can invest in their kids.

We can’t solve the rich-poor gap with school. We have to solve it with family.

All the data we have says we need to help poor parents invest more time and energy into their kids. That begs the questions: How do those parents get the money to stay home to do that? Or how do poor parents find the money to hire the high-quality child care that rich parents hire to make up for their absence? Or how do parents get more financial resources so they can keep marriages together? (Single parents live in poverty and rich, educated couples do not get divorced.)

Minimum wage increases will not close the parenting gap between rich and poor kids. Because minimum wage is barely enough to keep a family homeless. It’s definitely not enough to get good childcare. The cost of childcare that is equal to a parent is so high that it’s not a possibility for low-income families. Which means a parent needs to be home with the kids.

The best way for a parent to be home with kids and earn money is with a flexible, part-time job.  But there are very few of those. Flexible jobs benefit rich people more than poor people, because rich people can make up the gap in childcare with high quality care. But poor parents can’t. So it won’t be enough to channel school money to poor families. We also need to force companies to provide a certain minimum percentage of jobs with flexible hours.

Increasingly, rich parents are staying home with their kids. The opt-out revolution is rich people. The homeschooling movement is rich people. Launching new businesses is growing among women, especially, but not among poor women. Rich parents are figuring out how to have one parent home with the kids. Poor parents do not have the tools to make that happen in their family. We need to reduce that disparity more than we need to improve schools.

The bottom line is that the way to close the rich-poor gap is to help poor parents spend more time and energy with their kids. Companies should get tax breaks for creating jobs that allow people to work and take care of kids. Politicians should use their influence on expenditures to reward businesses that create flex-time jobs. And if you are in a position to create jobs, create jobs that allow people to work and be home for their kids.

We spend so much money on schools, and that money does nothing to bring kids out of poverty. So we should shift the spending to create jobs to bring the kids’ parents out of poverty in a respectful, family-friendly way.



97 replies
  1. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    I go to church in an impoverished Indianapolis neighborhood, and I see every day how hard it is to get to even a lower-class life when you’re in poverty.

    I think you’re right: we have to solve it with family.

    We recently opened a daycare for ages 6 months to 4 years, and we take CCDF. The idea is to have a very low-cost place for the single moms to leave their kids so they can work. Without that place, they end up stuck on assistance and never get off. But assistance isn’t really enough, and so the moms end up with the parade of boyfriends, roommates, etc., to share the financial load. They end up moving constantly as one situation falls through and they find/make another. And of course then there are the drugs that seem to touch so many. Even a mom who’s clean is likely to end up involved in this way with someone who uses, with all the chaos that creates. It creates such instability for the children. So we hope to provide a safe place for them, allowing the moms to find jobs and hopefully make more money, helping them avoid the desperate living situations, creating better stability for the kids.

    Getting it off the ground has been an uphill climb that has shocked us. We thought we’d be full to the gills with kids immediately; capacity is about 40. Instead, six months in we have three babies. Sometimes the mom lacks the life skills to get on CCDF. Our neighborhood is trending away from white/black to hispanic and there’s a real dual neighborhood going on where the hispanics tend to keep among themselves, and certainly don’t have anything to do with the white/black churches.

    But the biggest hurdle, we are starting to think, is a catch 22: moms need a job to get money to pay our fee, but can’t get that job until they put their kids with us. We are talking about letting moms place their kids with us gratis for 3-ish months while they wait for CCDF to take hold and while they look for work. It will spike our cash burn rate, but we are starting to think we have no choice if we want this to happen.

    • Cáit
      Cáit says:

      Not trying to be snarky at all… many of these women could ever find jobs that pay more than “assistance”? And what assistance is this? Tanf? I’m not an expert in these things, but I know the 80’s are over with “assistance.”
      Does it even make financial sense for them to work? How could they possibly earn more than minimum wage? If they are barely making good life choices, as you suggest, why are they so employable? Maybe a string of boyfriends supporting them makes more sense. Maybe you should do more to support and maintain those relationships instead of daycare.
      Most women are good at taking care of their own children on a basic needs level. It’s instinctive. Daycare is a flawed model.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        I’m in the UK right now. I attended a mom and me play class mid day on a Wednesday along with many other mothers. They were chatting about their careers. Mid day Wednesday. Apparently, here, with this thing called family rights laws, women are given their 1 year paid maternity leave (if working, if not and broke they get a decent house (with later option to buy that same house) and car and free college education and free child minding) once that is up, they can choose to go back to work at the same company part time. It is law.

        There are many ways to implement more basic rights laws that allow mothers (or fathers!) to be there for their kids. It has nothing to do with assistance when it becomes a right.

        • Cáit
          Cáit says:

          I spent most of my mothering years in a rich northern European country. Whatever the maternity leave, 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, the kids would be better with their moms. The U.K. Has had their share of daycare scandals. But I do really admire uk housing assistance etc. you do a good job with lots of social things. But everyone outside the us are always falling all over themselves to brag about their incredible maternity leaves “oh Finland is soooo much better Germany..” Etc. pretty lame. It’s not maternity “leave” that is the innovation over your grandparents, it’s maternity go-back. Maternity leave should be for life.
          I am very pro- “assistance” btw.

          • jessica
            jessica says:

            I’m American.

            I get the draw backs, but I also see how it creates a system where people get by (not in poverty at least). Another noted difference are the amount of grandparent couples here that take the children one or more days a week, and extended aunts and uncles that do the same because everyone has time off. Their time isn’t dictated by an employer. Which I also understand is the crux of American culture- fend for yourself, it’s your choice who you work for etc, but as P is pointing out people are getting less choice because of the gap. So how do we give struggling people some time back? They aren’t likely to be able to earn their way out.

      • Jim Grey
        Jim Grey says:

        Valid questions. We are working on a job training program to teach basic life/work skills and custodial skills. It’s not enough; being a custodian doesn’t pay enough. But it’s the best we can do right now.

        We do try to support the relationships as best we can, help them become healthy.

        It’s all a serious uphill climb, and right now our approach is multi-pronged because one size does not fit all.

        • Anita
          Anita says:

          Is your church Catholic? If it isn’t, you are not gonna get many hispanics your way. Not because they have anything against your church exactly, but because it’s not their church.

          • Jim Grey
            Jim Grey says:

            Not Catholic. Where I am, there are Catholic and Protestant Hispanics, but the Protestants still tend to form their own churches rather than join the existing ones. I have to think it’s culture and language.

      • Cáit
        Cáit says:

        I’m sorry. I just realised that was kind of pushy of me. It’s just that being Anti-daycare is a core issue of mine. I’m sure your hearts are in the right place.

        • Jim Grey
          Jim Grey says:

          I would prefer that these families were stronger and that children were well cared for and loved in them. That’s just not usually the case. Our goal is not to lock families into a daycare situation, but to give them a hand up so they can be more financially secure so their lives are not as chaotic. We hope to connect families with additional community resources that might help them build even greater life stability so that perhaps they can reach a place where they don’t need day care anymore.

      • Jim Grey
        Jim Grey says:

        It’s under the umbrella of the church, not a separate entity, not for now. I’ve got experience setting up nonprofits with the state and 501(c)(3)s with the IRS so when we are ready to split them off I’ll be on it.

  2. terese hilliard
    terese hilliard says:

    We have found a unconventional way to provie my grandaughter with a mixture of what we hope are “the best of both worlds” options. My son has Aspbergers and his girlfriend has cognitve procesing difficulties. I am a college graduate (Human Development Major)with a great paying job.We live together. My son works 30 hours a wee at $10 per hour. His girlfriend stays home. She walk their daughter to school everyday -she is there 6 hous total in an A+ school in a good neighbrhood. While their income is low, they pay me half of everthing my son earns, which pays he grocery bill. On vacation I take my grandaughter to MANY places to see the world. She has educational toys and actvities at home to help her develop. She is an extremly quick learner and scores high on tests. After school her Mom is there every day to pick her up with the wagon, or her bike, to walk home. After school she spends time with her Mom playing at the playground or at home. Her parents ar dirt poor – much like I was when I was young. I worked 2 jobs and put myself thru college, breaking the poverty cycle in my family. My older sons are quite successful – one a retired Air Force Captain and another a Police Officer. I think FAMILY is the only answer to ending poverty. I believe that my grandchildren will be LIGHT YEARS ahead of where I was as a teen parent with no money or education. Edcation did help us break out of poverty – but FAMILY was a big part of that.

  3. Amy K.
    Amy K. says:

    “Rich parents are figuring out how to have one parent home with the kids.”

    A 2013 Pew study on stay-at-home-moms shows that the increase in SAHMs isn’t being led by rich moms–it’s young, high-school educated, immigrant and increasingly poor moms driving up the numbers.

    “Stay-at-home mothers are younger, poorer and less educated than their working counterparts. For example, 34% of stay-at-home mothers are poor, compared with 12% of working mothers. They are also less likely to be white and more likely to be immigrants.”


    “In 2012, nearly 370,000 U.S. married stay-at-home mothers (with working husbands) had at least a master’s degree and family income exceeding $75,000. This group accounted for 5% of married stay-at-home mothers with working husbands.”

    From Pew Social Trends dot org, “after decades in decline a rise in stay at home mothers”.

  4. Bobbie Howard
    Bobbie Howard says:

    Seriously??? Homeschool parents are rich? Home school parents are sacrificing. Homeschool parents are military families living on less than minimum wage trying to find continuity for their children. Children who leave homes, churches, friends behind every few years. Children which have at least one parent that deploys at any given moment. These parents do not eat out at McDonalds. They buy clothes at thrift stores and they budget curriculum in very imaginative ways. Some homeschoolers are single parents that juggle jobs and education. They stretch a dollar usually at the dollar store. The other thing about Homeschoolers, they are the parents that do not need public service announcements telling them to TALK to their babies, To READ to their children, to have a sit down DINNER together. And if you really want your mind blown, SOME homeschoolers are NOT WHITE! Thank God YOU are financially affluent, some of us live in Mobile homes to make sure they can stretch their dollar farther to do their best for their children. Shame on you for stereotyping homeschoolers to look like you! They are the most loving , self-sacrificing people I know….AND THAT IS WHY THEIR CHILDREN SUCCEED!

  5. Mariano
    Mariano says:

    Interesting article with good information but with misguided, no-clue solutions: “somebody do something!” “Uh, oh yea, that guy over there, he looks good and speaks well. He says the things I want to hear. He’s a politician! Surely he can fix things. He can force companies to give up excess resources. Because all companies make excess profits and resources that are just laying around. Those greedy rascals.”

    Anyone who knows how hard it is to provide and maintain a job in the real economy knows it is wishful thinking to provide grand benefits.

    This article points to the effects of the real problem, which is a crippled economy, which is a long controversial story that has to do with people being forced to do stuff and pay for stuff that they don’t want. Kind of what gets done a lot in schools.

    • mh
      mh says:


      If all I teach my kids in their at-home years is economic truth, I will have succeeded.

      Demand curve slopes down.
      Everything — Everything — is a trade-off.

      • sarah
        sarah says:

        I often wonder why highschools do not concentrate on life skills like this? Its very illogical, and blows my mind how many parents do not teach their kids economic skills.

  6. Kerri
    Kerri says:

    Brilliant as usually Penelope. Love all the research and the links. Such a multi-leveled piece. So great that you used some Canadian sources!

    I was working class and sometimes poor (on welfare, used the food bank) when my kid (unplanned, born when I was in my early 20’s and single) was small. I knew that his life would be richer, his confidence would be stronger, and he would have the internal resources for success if I was present with him both physically & emotionally. So I chose to be his care-taker most of the time and creatively endure shitty housing and second-hand everything to keep food on the table.

    I was confident in my choices but there were TONS of challenges, of course. Now that my son is in college I can afford to be a bit smug sometimes.

    P. is right on the money. Which is exactly what parents need in order to be great parents.

  7. Anna
    Anna says:

    We throw money at daycare/pre-k because we don’t trust poor mothers to take good care of their children.

    • Cáit
      Cáit says:

      And we should trust them. It’s the same social class working in daycares. How do the same women do better with strangers kids?

  8. Shann
    Shann says:

    Nice. I like this title, “The Best Way to Lift Kids Out of Poverty (it’s NOT education)” way better than one you wrote some months back entitled, “School is a Fast Track to Poverty.”

    One thing FINALLY acknowledged regarding homeschooling is that, “Poor parents do not have the tools to make that happen in their family.” Sounds like a waaay more reasonable and nuanced policy approach than previous dogmatic assertions which seemed to reason that school was (or will become) the source of poverty…

    – Shann

  9. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    I’ll just throw this out there….this combined with “Middle-Age White people die earlier” or something like that, I have come to new conclusions.

    Perhaps we think of this the wrong way, perhaps rich people should start acting more like poor people, and then the gap won’t look so big.

    Send your kids out the door in the morning with a pack of pop tarts.
    Live next door to your mother.
    Never leave your state for vacation.
    Watch TV sitcoms as a family every week night.
    Call friends and family, talk for hours about nothing, put them on hold if another call comes in.
    Never, ever live someplace with an HOA.
    Use the internet only for looking up movie times.

    Perhaps this is backwards looking, or nostalgia. But the assumption is always that of course people do not want to be in poverty and of course they want to live like ‘us’, (whoever us is). But I don’t think this is true, I think many people are fine with their financial standing, even though it be low, they just wish things would stop being taken away from them; like public transportation, sidewalks, schools, neighborhood stores, parks, friends and family (who now need to move across the country to be ‘successful’), police protection, someone to answer their calls when they call the IRS, after-school bus routes, basic cable that was not their biggest utility bill….and on and on.

    • Cáit
      Cáit says:

      I like the bottom half of your post, about not taking things away like public transportation.
      But HOAs? “Rich people” don’t have HOAs. Uncool and suburban. Rich people live in cities.
      A lot of these comments are stuck in the ’90s..,

      • Jennifa
        Jennifa says:

        This is making me laugh. I thought rich people lived in neighborhoods with HOA’s, that is how it seems to me. I mean, richer than what I am used to, okay, maybe REALLY rich people don’t? But, people who have more bedrooms than kids, that is what I use as my ‘rich’ barometer.

        okay, rich people live in cities. That is a very recent phenomenon, that believe it or not, has not yet trickled down everywhere…..just look one block over….It’s there man, I’m telling you the poor people are still there.

        These comments are stuck in the ’90s, you bet they are. The poor people I know well are presently stuck in the 60’s. As in, joining the longshoreman’s union is the way to go! Yeah, yep, that still works people, keep thinking that way, every young man should sign up.

        Sorry, that is why I haven’t commented here in a long time, I was starting wonder if I too lived in some kind of radical time-warp.

        People on this blog sometimes seem to be worried about problems that most people are not aware is a problem yet, and probably won’t realize until they’ve been dead about 30 years. Which I get real excited about discussing, but then I have to turn off my computer and remember, oh yeah, I live with these people…..

        But I would not trade it for the world!

  10. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    I think this analysis is accurate, but you didn’t go into one very important point, which is: “Poor parents do not have the tools to make [building businesses] happen in their family.”

    Just having more money won’t necessarily help families build the stability and the mindset they need to break poverty cycles. Network, Mindset, the ability to build systems, and learning to create value are the most import parts of permanently exiting poverty. Money only partially addresses the ability to build systems, and completely neglects all other aspects.

  11. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    The best way to lift kids out of poverty is for their parents to get out of poverty before having kids.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      True, but in the meantime there are still millions of poor families with not many options.

    • Cáit
      Cáit says:

      I find this mentality so harsh! Love is creative. People with all kinds of problems still fall in love and create children. The reason we look at poverty as a problem to solve collectively and spend time talking about it is because it is so much blame weighted toward the environment and circumstances as opposed to individual. It’s the last kind of problem we should invoke against suitability for parenting. I meet plenty of clueless icy cold moms who aren’t poor. It seems strangely very easy for war against poverty to turn into war against the poor.

      • Pirate Jo
        Pirate Jo says:

        I find your mentality irresponsible.

        If it’s okay for people in poverty to have children, which is what causes children to be in poverty, then we should all just stop worrying about it. Anyone who falls in love and doesn’t use birth control can have kids and raise them with however little money they want, and the rest of us should shut up and stop saying it’s a problem for children to be in poverty, because that’s judgmental. In other words, people in poverty don’t mind being there and don’t see it as a bad way to live, because otherwise they wouldn’t be adding people to it.

        If children being in poverty IS a problem because their needs aren’t being met, then whose responsibility it is to meet the needs of said children? Most of us say it’s the responsibility of the parents, because to suggest otherwise is to say you get to do whatever you want and it’s perfectly reasonable to expect your neighbors to pay your resulting bills and solve your resulting problems. This is not something anyone appreciates unless they are on the receiving end of this largesse, and sometimes not even then. Grown-ups understand this. It isn’t “harsh” to expect people to be responsible for their own offspring, it’s what grown-ups do.

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          Yes, but the risk doesn’t leave the system. Not everyone can or has the ability to be accountable for every decision they make. In a perfect world, sure.

          As a one off- I personally know someone that had a lot of realistic assistance (a house, car, education, and childminder) to help when she had a baby in her 20s uneducated and single. She is now educated and earning 6 figures, and her daughter is bright, present and well adjusted. Without the support there is very little chance they would be where they are today. And yes, taxpayers funded all of it.

          I also know someone who lives and breathes off of support without any intention of leaving it. She has a kid too.

          Nowadays we aren’t short capital; not everyone needs to work.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:


            In your first friends case, it seems that education + help did get her out of poverty through more opportunities for work. Kind of the opposite of what Penelope is saying in her post.

      • Bookish Jen
        Bookish Jen says:

        Going to Penelope Trunk to get any insight on the poor and poverty issues is like going to Hannibal Lecter for recipes. Penelope grew up in Wilmette, Illinois, one of the most wealthiest suburbs in the United States. She has often spoken of her personal driver, her nannies, her expensive refrigerator, her personal assistants, her housekeepers, her kids’ expensive music lessons, her flying off to California for Botox treatments et al. The Farmer, I believe, also has money. Furthermore, Penelope’s compassion and empathy wouldn’t fill a thimble.

  12. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    This post was really heavy and intense, and so were all the links.

    The only link that I disagreed with was the Half Sigma blog post that you used to make the point about puberty and IQ. That author’s blog post did not link to any credible science, and was merely their opinion, they even said “if the above is true” meaning they weren’t even sure if what they were saying was factual, plus the blog post that he mentioned that spurred his post isn’t even a link anymore.

    I like that Jennifa says that we on this blog are worried about problems that most people don’t know exist. I like being a trailblazer. 30 years from now our comments will seem genius!

  13. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    This is not on topic, but this just came up today:

    Has anyone heard of They run summer camps for kids that are supposed to help them explore careers.

    I dunno, my niece was ‘nominated’ but the financials are difficult to work out. Which makes me wonder what is the point of being nominated if your parents have to then cough up a load of money, and I was wondering if the nominators get any kick-backs.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I would be suspicious of this because it sounds quite scammy. Kids can be nominated for all sorts of things if they get on the wrong mailing list somehow.

      I would probably invest that money in better opportunities for research and exploration in my child’s area of interest and in something that is highly recommended by people that I know, especially if the cost of the camp is high.

      • Jennifa
        Jennifa says:

        Thanks YMKAS, after some more searching, it is not a total scam, but it is basically a money making enterprise. They are slick however, they get kids very excited about it.

  14. Moms on the Sidelines
    Moms on the Sidelines says:

    Penelope, do you think you could coach someone out of poverty? I would think a lack of connections and exposure to various careers is a large factor in remaining poor?

    With a well written resume and coaching, could one be coached to get an entry-level job that allows for growth? I’m certain I’m being ignorant when I suggest it’s this is possible, but I don’t know what I’m missing.

  15. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    I think I admire this post more than any other I’ve read by PT. The research is mostly sound, and the argument is powerful and coherent. I find myself convinced, and agreeing with the conclusion that the best way to help parents lift their children out of poverty would be helping those parents spend more time with their children rather than financing low-budget daycare for them.

    This optimism then shipwrecks on the shoals of who really cares. I do, but so what? Lifting people out of poverty is not a national priority. Lifting people out of poverty is not the reason for school, and it’s not the reason for daycare. It shouldn’t really surprise us that those machines don’t do a job they’re not designed for.

    Other countries care about people in poverty, and see a national balancing, or a large, strong national class, as pressing issues. In Scandinavia, people share a view that moving people out of poverty into middle-class life makes the nation stronger. In America, we don’t share that view. For every Euro-sympathizer, there are two Americans who think that poverty is God’s own punishment on the unworthy, that poverty makes the nation stronger by building character, or that lifting people out of poverty will make their hamburgers cost too much.

    We don’t have daycare so poor children can escape poverty. We have daycare so poor mothers can clean houses, wait tables, and push wheelchairs. And breed another generation that does the same.

    When one says “we should shift the spending,” one means that a significant majority of the public should vote differently, or pressure our elected officials to change policy. We simply don’t have a national agreement that shifting spending to address poverty better should even be a priority, let alone a shared perspective about how to do it.

    In our political climate, it would be easier to get people to vote for and support changed spending priorities on the basis that God wants women to stay at home where they belong than on the basis that poor mothers spending time with their children is good for them. If a competent policy wonk could design a program of tax rebates for full-time caregivers that couldn’t end up just being milked in perpetuity, it could be sold with a side of apple pie.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:


      I also care very deeply about this topic, but I am optimistic that others care just as much or else they will in the future once they open their eyes and minds to the issues. I can’t accept that people are naturally cold-hearted. I also think the majority of people are more intelligent than needing “big eye in the sky” as a carrot stick for any policy changes.

  16. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    I am so disappointed.

    I agree with Bostonian that this is a powerful, thought-provoking piece, and the links are good. The ideas of mothers being able to stay home with babies sounds, just so right, and romantic, a word Cait has used.

    But I am disappointed with myself because I do not agree with the conclusion of the piece, and I do not agree with Bostonian, whom I usually agree with whole-heartily.

    I consider myself a liberal too, so this all sounds so liberal, the things I love to get behind, yet I cannot.

    I think about real people I know….and would this work? Could some program giving mothers a way to stay home with children help the children then later move into a higher income bracket? No, I have never seen this happen. And I would not ever expect to see this happen.

    The things is, Moms stay home now. They live in public housing with their mom (the grandma) and they stay home with their babies.

    A baby hanging around a family of people who love them very much, but never go to work, is a problem.

    Missing fathers is a big problem, fathers need to work, they need to know that they are important , and needed. Sometimes, the birth of a baby inspires a dad to work harder, so the mom and baby can be together. Sometimes this does happen, and it is good, for awhile.

    If moms get money to stay home with a baby, there is even less reason for the father to stay around and get a job, for any amount of time. Don’t take away that reason.

    One more thing, the only programs that seem to help kids succeed are programs where they are connected with a group of adult mentors. There are some like this in Baltimore, I will have to find a link, but it is intense, requires many adult volunteers who are willing to really do any little thing for the child. This is not meant to replace the parents, but to add to that. And the kids need it when they are bigger, like 8-18. Those are the kids most neglected, not babies. I would argue for the most part, mothers in poverty right now are taking care of their babies, its when kids get bigger and have to develop a relationship with other people besides their mother, that things get dicey.

    • Jim Grey
      Jim Grey says:

      Great comment, and I agree with you. We take on a mindset from what we grew up with and it’s hard to break out of it.

      I grew up with a working-class dad and a mom who was actually upper middle class, but lived more as a working-class family. I went to college and got a good career and have an upper-middle-class job and income today — but I still live more working class, a mindset of scarcity rather than abundance, living in an older, smaller home in a declining neighborhood and driving an old car with a lot of miles. My peers tend to have the big houses in the suburbs and the nicer, newer cars. They came from abundance and expect it to continue. I always wonder when the bottom will fall out and want to be protected against it.

      I see a poverty mindset as well and it is hard to break out of just as my working -class mindset is.

      • Moms on the Sidelines
        Moms on the Sidelines says:

        My husband grew up poor. We are now a many dollars away from living in poverty, but his childhood experience impacts us daily. He’s determined to give the children what he didn’t have, and as a result, works insane hours on a start-up business. That’s when he’s not on a ship 6 months of the year. He associates a dollar value with everything he invests time in. If he’s not “producing”, it’s not a priority…. that tells you a little something about his thoughts on me taking a significant pay-cut to stay home with the children much of the time. Can’t escape your childhood.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      Don’t be disappointed because you think I’m wrong. I am wrong sometimes. I may well be wrong now.

      I don’t know the moms you know. But I have known the kids we’re talking about. Before I had my own kids, I was a Big Brother, and I had Littles who were very much not going to be lifted up by school. When my son went to public school, some of his classmates were very much not going to be lifted up by school. On any given day I can see rope lines of daycare kids very much not being lifted up by the impoverished women screaming at them in Spanglish.

      I think I understand your argument: just because school isn’t working, just because daycare isn’t working, doesn’t mean that sending the kids back home with their moms would necessarily work either.

      So what would? My half-assed attempts at being a substitute dad worked only a wee bit… until the migra or the dealers caught up with my Littles and they disappeared in the middle of the night, no forwarding address.

      I do believe that public policy can work for the public good. Can you think of any that would in this case? We’re already deep into a public policy to promote daycares. Maybe public policy to promote mom-care wouldn’t work, so what do you think would?

      • Jennifa
        Jennifa says:

        Bostonian! Thanks for carrying on the conversation. I had to google migra.

        I believe in public policy and I believe in public institutions, like public schools.

        Poverty is so complex, it is near impossible to address the myriad of causes with any silver bullet policies we could dream up.

        But I do think addressing the problem at the childs level is where there are possibilities. Helping adults, as in the parents, is harder. Some bad choices just cannot be fixed.

        I just read the book The other Wes Moore. How early, quickly and definitively the Wes that ended up in jail messed up his life made my head spin.

        I keep coming back to schools, more resources in schools, for kids to help themselves and then ultimately turn back around and reach out to their parents.

        • redrock
          redrock says:

          yes indeed – there is no silver bullet, some kids will be well served staying home with their mums and learn at home, others are served better in school. If your mum/dad loves you but has no education beyond 4th grade or is reading at a barely functional level, you will learn life skills, and kindness but not skills. I personally find this preferable to a highly skilled parent without the kindness, but you cannot go from the bare minimum in education to career planning. Career planning is the luxury of the middle class (and whatever comes if you earn more the a few hundred thousand bucks a year). However – not everybody has to have a career – and poverty is also not equal to an unhappy and unfulfilling life. I advocate diversity in education!

        • Bostonian
          Bostonian says:

          Jennifa, thanks for the reply.

          Let’s remember that daycare is something for babies, not school age kids. No parent really needs a college degree to take care of babies and toddlers, just love and patience. I have a hard time not believing a parent should have more of that for their own kids than someone hired for the job. We put our first kid in daycare at an early age so mom could go back to the job, and honestly some of the places we toured were horrific, like orphanages, rows of cradles being rocked by grumpy old women.

          I haven’t read the book you cite, but I understand the author wonders why another kid with the same name ended up in prison instead of where he did, despite growing up in the same neighborhood. Doesn’t he come to the conclusion it’s something his mother did differently, rather than something public school did differently? Apparently, his mother sent him to private schools and then to military school.

          It could be interesting to ask where public policy could have made a better contribution to his life or to the life of the other Wes Moore. Perhaps a good place would have been the point at which the other Wes Moore’s mother dropped out of college because she lost her Pell grant.

          If I think back to my Littles and what might have helped them… first off, not being on the run would have helped. No drug dealers or pimps would have helped. Safe streets in their neighborhood would have helped. A father in the picture would have helped. Better role models… but I don’t see how the school could have been much different, or how a small change to that six hours would have been important.

          All the stuff I did with those kids that they had never done before. Not just skiing, skating, visiting museums. It’s depressing these kids lived in Boston and had never been on a boat, even though we have boats that cost a dollar back then. Kids are smart. They can figure out how to reach their goals. The problem was the goals. With such a constricted world they lived in, how high could those goals be?

          • Jennifa
            Jennifa says:

            Bostonian, well all is right with the world again because I an back to agreeing with everything you said above.

            Now I am dealing with your last paragraph with the inlaws…..a tough nut to crack. It is beyond mind boggling sometimes.

    • Cáit
      Cáit says:

      Whenever we talk about poverty in the Anglosphere, thr Disolution is in the background, haunting us. Some of these comments are very ‘workhouse’– the remnant of Puritanism. only a Puritan says “don’t reproduce if you are poor.”
      What I’m trying to say is– I don’t think we have to choose between “liberal” and “libertarian.” There are a thousand other ideas and we can follow our hearts.

  17. Cate R.
    Cate R. says:

    I think Penelope is on the right track here.

    My husband and I have both come from single-mom, cycle of poverty situations, mine much worse than his; drugs and boyfriends etc.

    Our strategy to change the legacy for our children places massive importance on

    1. Staying married (I don’t think most people realize how important this is)
    2. Homeschooling (in what world could we possibly afford the superior, customized, one-on-one, tutor based education that homeschooling creates for our kids?)
    3. Having an at-home parent.

    We make a household income that most people think rules out the option of me being a SAHM but we’re faced with hard life choices and are choosing which set of huge compromises to make. We live in a sketchy neighborhood in a small crappy rental but my kids have the person who is literally the most concerned with their success, me, with them more than anyone. People don’t like to hear it but a child’s own parents are uniquely equipped to make a disproportionately positive impact on every level on them.

  18. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    I really wish I could stop thinking about this stuff.

    I do believe daycare helps single-moms. It doesn’t help kids too much specifically, but if it helps a single mom earn income, that is a win-win.

  19. Katarina
    Katarina says:

    I begged my mom not to send me to daycare. At 6 years old I got myself to school, back home for lunch, back to school on time and then home after school until she got home from work. She made arrangements for me to go to neighbors’ houses but I didn’t want to go there.

    I am not against daycare. I actually helped start up and run one, 22 years ago,in a low income community. For most low income people, there is no other choice. I think my upbringing would be illegal now. I didn’t mind being alone. I didn’t want to be in an institutional setting. I was a homeschool parent in the making!

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      Katarina, when I was 6 what you describe was normal. I walked to school along with every other kid on the block. Most of the houses we walked back to after school had moms in them, but not all did. Nobody thought there was anything wrong with the idea. Nobody locked their doors, either. When my mom had dinner ready she hollered out the back door like every other mom, and if I wasn’t within earshot, some other kid probably knew where I was and would tell me.

      Our concept of what a 6 year old is capable of has changed for the worse. Daycare isn’t bad enough; now we need “aftercare.”

      • Jennifa
        Jennifa says:

        I did aftercare and hated it. Absolutely abhorred it. The joy at seeing my moms car come around the corner I canstill remember. She came to get us from work, and tired. My dad was living the life of a bachelor off somewheres.

        Later I refused to go anymore and was allowed to be home alone.

        But now I make more money than either of my parents ever did.
        Did I change socioecomonic strata? Hard to say, I have a poor resume I can detail out, like alot of people can. But my family was not systemically poor. When PT uses the word poverty, i assume she is speaking about families that have been poor for forty plus years, and no one has ever made it out, or very very few of the extended family.

  20. Leonie
    Leonie says:

    This really got me thinking.

    I agree that babies need to be with their parents. Daycare starting at 6 weeks is a barbaric practice. I couldn’t bring myself to do it for a high paying career and I certainly wouldn’t want to do it for poverty wages. It’s simply not possible to pay someone to care the way that a parent would. And it’s certainly not possible for someone making (near) poverty wages to provide anything approaching the level of care that a parent would.

    Where the line gets blurred for me, is the idea that time with family would facilitate socioeconomic mobility. How? There’s no way. There’s an argument to be made that children deserve a certain level of care that can only be met by their parents. But to suggest that this time with family (also living in poverty) could lift these kids out of poverty just does not add up.

    (For what it’s worth, I agree that school is also not the answer)

  21. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    Where daycare gets a bad rap is if it is peddled as ‘early childhood education’. It should be called what it is at least, babysitting.

    As Jim pointed out in the very first comment, they are few takers on their service.

    Like leonie said above, school is not the answer, but maybe school is. Strip away curriculum and the goal of education even, and you are left with a building , with food service capability and an existing line item in a city or counties budget that everyone has already agreed to pay for, where it is socially acceptable for a group of people to converge most days. That right there is a social idea and infrastructure that we should not let go, because if we do we will never get it back. It teaches people how to show up, simply show up.

    • Cáit
      Cáit says:

      Instead of daycare…I like the idea of drop in social centers moms and babies can go to together. That are staffed with facilitators who can connect them with resources they need if the issue comes up. They could also facilitate mommy-baby literacy programs, etc, give moms in a variety of situations a place to go to not be alone all day. The need for mom socialisation cuts across social class.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      Jennifa, that social contract is already dead in my city and many other places. Forced busing killed the neighborhood school here, and it will never come back. Kids have no right or relationship with a nearby building, just with a huge system that can bus them wherever it wants. Kids shuffle around again every few years.

      The food production capacity was killed at the same time. Though so many city public school kids are poor that the schools have breakfast and lunch for free and serve food all summer long, none of the food is fresh, just microwave processed food in plastic bags.

      I love the idea of a school as a community resource center, but that’s a non-starter in my city. We don’t even have the buildings anymore. The “segregated” schools of the 70s (far less segregated than today) were so offensive they’ve been torn down or turned into condos.

      You can’t bus people across town to a community resource center.

      • Jennifa
        Jennifa says:

        Bostonian, that is making me sad for Boston. I am curious if you think this complete destruction of the public school ststem in that city has helped those in poverty in that city? Or forced them to look for other options that are indeed better for them?

        It is difficult to come up with policy or institutions that helps a majority of people. I would say my husband benefitted from public schools, and he took the public bus across town to Poly, and others have and still do benefit from going there.

        The public schools are still the major player in Baltimore and surrounding counties. And they do have a fresh food program that is touted on local media.

        Obviously things are not great in Baltimore either – see Freddie Gray. There have been studies that show simply changing your location helps lift kids out of poverty.

        As far as I can tell, it takes alot of adults caring and spending time.

        A few weeks ago I had a 13 year oldblack boy on a bmx bike and wearing a hoody shoot at/near me. He had a gun, i dont know what it was, it made alot of popping sounds, it did not have an orange tip. My dogs who were with me were jumping around, visibly disturbed by this. We had a one minute interaction with the boy yelling at me, and making his gun pop, i never responded. He was behind me and everytime I turned around the popping stopped. I think about him all the time. I dont think school or homeschooling is going to help him. What could? The only answer I come up with is a time with a responsible black man.

        • Bostonian
          Bostonian says:

          Jennifa, the decay and depletion of the BPS has definitely not helped poor people in this city. One could theorize that chasing the middle class out of the school system would leave more money to focus on the problems of poor kids, as the budget stays the same despite declining enrollment, but it doesn’t really play out that way.

          Forced busing morphed into something euphemistically called “school choice,” also known as The Lottery (which always makes me think of Shirley Jackson). The result of desegregation policies has been vastly increased segregation. During the 50s – 70s, no school in Boston was 99% black and Hispanic; now, several are, and the BPS demographic is 80% black and Hispanic in a city that’s still about 50% white. In one of the highest-income metro areas in the country, 78% of BPS students live in poverty.

          People with options take them, and leave. In the city with the first public school, the first public elementary school, the first public high school, and the first public school system in the country, the schools lose students every day, and people move out of the city every day because of the schools. BPS enrolled 97K kids in 1970; it enrolled only 64K by 2000 (with white kids dropping from 62K to 9K). It continues to decline. We refuse to move. We love the Boston we know, which is not at all represented in or by the public schools.

          Now the word is that our new Mayor, Marty Walsh, is going to go full Rahm Emanuel on the BPS and close a quarter of the schools. I don’t think it’s going to make it better for anyone. They can save money by closing smaller buildings or half-empty buildings, or consolidating small schools into bigger half-empty buildings. But it’ll be the same system, and the process will inevitably be a step farther away from schools being part of a surrounding community.

          Boston witnessed the birth of public schools, and some days I feel it’s witnessing the death of them. But it’s a great place to homeschool.

          • Amy K.
            Amy K. says:

            Great discussion.


            What about Cambridge? They have “school choice” too, right? Have they experienced the same kind of white flight from the school system?

            In my neck of the woods, in Berkeley (also w/school choice), the problem is over-enrollment and alleged fraud–folks from Oakland and other nearby communities sneaking their way in to BUSD.

  22. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    This is response to Bookish Jen above. I think Penelope is a good spot to talk about poverty. She herself has her ‘poor resume’ and many people have poor resumes. How one either pulled themself up from the bootstraps or is willing to make sacrifices now for their kids is often touched on here.

    I would add that many folks are fine with their working class, lower income standing and only wish the world would stop shifting beneath their feet.

    I think PT’s story and others here shows that poor people are not a monolithic group. There are different kinds of poor, just as there are different kinds of rich.

    really the big elephant in the room is racism.

  23. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    I’m really sorry I’m so obsessed. The above two articles define a lot of what I see around me for white people.

    For black people ( I am not black so don’t want to speak) but the problems near me seem more urban, decades of racism, drug dealing and violence type problems.

    Both groups in poverty, each needing probably very different policy objectives to alleviate the problem. I don’t think more stay at home mothering would help either group, more education could.

    A better economy, or jobs, would help both.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      Jennifa, those articles are chilling to read. No, that is not the world I live in. The world I grew up in, maybe, but I left that behind in Kentucky.

      It seems as if the great changes I’ve seen in our society in the past four decades have fallen most heavily on some rather than others. The article talks about poor white women, but one thing it doesn’t bring up is that it’s talking about rural people.

      It’s the horizons. This country has undergone a remarkable dissolution in the past four decades. Prosperity used to be more evenly distributed, but there’s been a great retraction. The exportation of our manufacturing base, combined with our abandonment of infrastructure, hit rural communities far harder than cities.

      It’s hard to come up poor in a city. The relative deprivation is very present. But the chances to change are also present; there are pathways that can take a kid out of the ghetto, through a tech college, and into a career that might lead somewhere better. I talk to some my less fortunate acquaintances and I hear about their kids becoming paramedics, or firefighters, or getting into an exam school, and there’s progress there.

      You want that in Cave City, you have to leave. And that’s much harder.

      It’s like the tide took people out to every corner of the country with the idea we’d be one country prosperous from shore to shore. Those places a little behind would catch up eventually. And then the tide turned, and some folks got left high and dry.

  24. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    Bostonian, thanks for reading them.

    Right now I push the kids, get an education. Its a way out. The thing is, they don’t see they are trapped until too late.

  25. HomeschoolDad
    HomeschoolDad says:

    Have to strengthen families, by strengthening marriages,…which can only happen by improving values and morals. Yeah, religion. Sorry for the offensive suggestion. I will pray for you all!!! :)

    For secular tactics…

    I say eliminate all welfare and safety nets. Let people sink or swim on their own. This will encourage people to take care of themselves – never a bad thing.

    Ban color TV (Hulu and Netflix) which distorts brains, bodies and values like nothing else. (Admittedly fascist.)

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      I don’t know your religion but the vast majority of world religions include the “take care of your neighbor”, be generous to the less fortunate, make the world around you a better place. Apart from those who use the sword to achieve these goals – your secular suggestions really does not work well with your idea to follow religion as your guiding light.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Hi HomeschoolDad,

      Your secular solutions don’t align with any of the values of secular people that I know. Maybe it is a regional thing, but most secular people I know care about poor people and are very compassionate and understanding towards those less fortunate. I don’t know many secular people who would agree with your secular solutions, in fact, I don’t know many religious people who have that opinion either! You are probably one of the first, for me! My goodness!

      • Jennifa
        Jennifa says:

        Secular is one of those words I never use, I have no idea what it means. I just looked it up on my Merriam-Webster app, and I still have no idea when to use it.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:


          Secular is a term used to describe those who are not religious. When I was growing up, I only ever heard religious people use the term. Now that I am an adult, I only see it used to describe homeschooling groups. Like secular homeschooling. Not sure when or why that became necessary, and I’m not sure I care to know either.

        • Cáit
          Cáit says:

          This comment reflects some hidden genius. (-;
          ‘Secular’ is one of my least favorite words because it is frequently used in such strange ways that I try to pretend I don’t notice, like anything that makes you cringe. Then I think that it’s always possible that I’m the one with the poor sense of its use. Anytime I try to be a snob, even in my innermost thoughts, I know I risk a big slapdown…

          • Jennifa
            Jennifa says:

            Cait, thanks! I am going to stick with never using it.

            YMKAS, thanks for the insight. Now when I hear others use it I have some idea where they may be coming from.

        • Bostonian
          Bostonian says:

          “Secular” is a shibboleth most used by evangelicals. Folks who see everything in the context of their religion even try to explain things that have nothing to do with their religion in the terms of their religion, and thus you get “secular.” It’s like normal stuff seen from within a religion.

          Also consider the use of “worldly.” Another shibboleth, one of my favorites, because of how it’s used disparagingly by one group and admiringly by another in two completely different meanings.

    • Jennifa
      Jennifa says:

      I kinda understand where Homeschool Dad is coming from, it can be frustrating to see people make bad decisions, that feel like affect how much you pay in taxes. From afar, it is easy to say, “If they just acted like I do we wouldn’t have these problems!” I sometimes get like that too, but have to quickly remind myself I am an idiot, and that kind of thinking will make you a mean, cynical person with a black heart in the end. All people who do not make enough money to support the basics are not all doing something wrong, I think we both know that. On the flip side, maybe some of them are doing something wrong, but so are numerous people who makes tons of money and pay a lot of taxes.

      The questions is, if we have public programs to help the needy, there is going to be some false claims that occur. How much are we willing to deny the needy, to assure ourselves we are not paying for the bad apples? Do we really feel better being stingy with our help, and ultimately compassion, so that we have a little more money to play with ourselves?

      Lastly, if you really examine even the folks who flagrantly abuse the systems in place to help those in need, they are not doing that great. The ‘system’ only pays you so much, and it is rarely enough to actually live off of. They think they are playing the system when they are younger, but get old, and unhealthy very quickly. It is not a good life, they play games, constant hustling, constant running.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I don’t think pulling the rug out from people who are already in difficult positions is a solution at all. Sink or swim? No…please, no! Some people don’t need any help, but many do and will need more support. It is not only in most everyone’s best interest to take care of the poor, but when we are talking about fellow human beings…it is the wrong answer to take everything away from them.

  26. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    So this is a big problem. We have a society that historically has not allowed for mobility upwardly on the economic scale. While not desirable, it has worked reasonably well for generations. People did what their parents did, and made a living.

    But with the global economy, now if a kid grows up and does the same thing their parents did, they are no longer able to live at the same level their parents did.

    So we either have to figure out the problem of how do children hop up the economic ladder in order to maintain the same standard of living their parents achieved, or figure out how we want to deal with many more people in poverty.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      The modern middle class is a relative blip in our history that was ushered in by the Industrial age, the Great Depression, and WWII. And just as soon as it got here, it is on its way out. The Industrial age and its jobs are long gone, it is now the digital age. With the Digital age come endless opportunities, but the current education system is still based on an industrial model. The poor will suffer the greatest, and that is why I support measures to safe-guard safety nets.

  27. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    You would almost think that the schools and the divorce revolution and the welfare were deliberate programs by the One Percent to keep the poor down.

    Nah, couldn’t be. Because our rulers “care about people like me.”

  28. Cathy Norman
    Cathy Norman says:

    Returning to a family wage would certainly help. This seemingly “unequal” solution would be more fair. It might also encourage marriage, which has fallen on hard times, partly because single people can now afford to live alone. And the best way to fight child poverty is for the children to be raised by their own, married mother and father.

  29. John
    John says:

    I don’t have the answer for poor children to get out of poverty. But poor people have to work very hard stay above poverty line.

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