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The link between low-wage earning parents and youth outcomes
By Nikki Yamashiro
Last week, the Center for Social Policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston released a study that examines the effects of parents’ low-wage jobs on their children’s development and well-being. Researchers found that in families where parents work in jobs earning an hourly wage less than two-thirds of the state median hourly wage, children drop out of school at higher rates, are more likely to experience health problems—such as obesity—and are more likely to have extra responsibilities that take time away from their studies, out-of-school activities and overall personal development.
The report, “How Youth Are Put At Risk by Parents’ Low-Wage Jobs,” delves into the difficulties parents face when working in low-wage jobs, which often come with demanding work hours, less flexible schedules, few employer-based benefits and more job instability. The authors write that these parents often have a hard time balancing the needs of their families with the demands of their employers. Additionally, because of a lack of time, money and resources, parents find themselves unable to afford alternatives, such as meals that are both quick and healthy and services like child care.
The study finds that these challenges directly impact the children of these families—an estimated 3.6 million—in a number of negative ways. Parents’ time constraints and inflexible work schedules when in a low-wage job take time away from family dinners, involvement with their child’s schooling and attention to their child’s everyday life. Very much in the same vein as our issue brief released this past October, “Afterschool: A Key to Successful Parent Engagement,” the authors discuss the deep and influential relationship between children and parents. The authors link the confluence of challenges faced by parents working in low-wage jobs to the increased likelihood of negative outcomes for children, including:
- Becoming disengaged from school and dropping out,
- Leading less healthy lives—such as exercising less and eating more unhealthy foods,
- Becoming pregnant, and
- Having less time to focus on their overall well-being.
Although these findings are both alarming and disheartening, the authors do present a way forward. One solution is the need for afterschool programs that provide youth from low-income households a safe and supervised environment, reinforce their academic development, encourage healthy activities, and give their working parents peace of mind. Other recommendations in the report include greater collaboration between workforce and youth development advocates and more attention to workplace benefits for parents.
These findings strengthen the case that afterschool programs play an important role in the lives of children, especially those who are most vulnerable. What’s more, when paired with the survey results from our report, “Uncertain Times 2012: Afterschool Programs Still Struggling in Today’s Economy,” which found afterschool programs across the country are struggling to meet the needs of children and families in their communities, we see that there is also a need for greater investment in afterschool at all levels—federal, state, local and private.
"From the just-released Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning for Student Success, edited by Terry K. Peterson, Ph.D., is a groundbreaking compendium of studies, reports and commentaries by more than 100 thought leaders including community leaders, elected officials, educators, researchers, advocates and other prominent authors.
This powerful collection of nearly 70 articles presents bold and persuasive evidence—as well as examples of effective practices, programs and partnerships—that demonstrate how opportunities after school and during the summer are yielding positive outcomes for authentic student, community and family engagement in learning."
By Ayeola Fortune, Education Team, United Way Worldwide
For most students, school has come back with a vengeance for about a month now and for many of them and their parents, it feels like summer never happened, or has receded into the far away past. But let’s not kid ourselves; the lasting consequences of summer are with us.
For youth who attended high-quality, enriching summer camps, or took a course at a nearby college, or traveled to far flung places with family – it was a summer with lasting memories that supported their overall development.
For youth who did not have informal or formal opportunities for enrichment – it was a summer that likely widened the achievement gap between them and their peers, a gap that will persist throughout the current school year and widen next summer when the cycle repeats itself. Their teachers know it - as pre-tests administered in the fall show who has made gains, stayed the same, or fallen behind in math and reading. Their parents know it – as they will also struggle during the school year to find affordable, convenient, and meaningful programs to enroll their students in after school. And the young people themselves know it – as they see themselves make progress or fall behind and fail to catch up with peers in school.
These persistent gaps in opportunities for enrichment and development outside of the regular school day and year have lasting consequences. Students only spend 20 percent of their time in school – so a significant part of the achievement and opportunity gaps can be explained by what happens (and does not happen) outside of the classroom. (See The Learning Season)
And yet leaders at every level – national, state, and local - can make a positive difference in the lives of youth. Leaders can help enact policy, align and coordinate efforts, mobilize and engage communities, raise awareness, and lend their voices to better ensure that youth have access to high-quality out-of-school time opportunities that offer them:
- Relevant experiences to cultivate potential career interests and job ready skills.
- Connection with caring adults.
- Opportunities to serve others.
- The extra help they might need to stay on track to graduation.
That’s why United Way Worldwide is convening a National Thought Leaders Summit on Out-of-School Time on Thursday, October 18th. United Way has set a national goal of increasing the graduation rate by 50 percent by 2018 – accomplishing this will require the use of proven strategies to support struggling, at-risk students and this includes high-quality out-of-school time programs. The Summit will bring together youth, education leaders, practitioners, United Ways, nonprofits, and corporate and philanthropic supporters to reflect on the progress in out-of-school time to date and consider what more we can do collectively to ensure that every young person that needs them has access to high-quality out-of-school time opportunities that help them graduate high school on time - prepared for college, work, and life.
In addition to keynote speakers Salome Thomas-EL and Dominique Dawes, panelists include Jim Shelton, U.S. Department of Education; Brenda Girton-Mitchell, U.S. Department of Education; Lidia Soto-Harmon, Girl Scouts of the Nation’s Capital; Bob Seidel, National Summer Learning Association; Ken Smith, Jobs for Americas Graduates; and others, who will collectively help us think about:
- The importance of connecting out-of-school time opportunities for older youth to future employment, cultivating job ready skills and preparing the workforce for tomorrow.
- The critical need to effectively engage middle and high school youth, since they can “vote with their feet” and opt out of programming that does not connect with their passions, sustain their interests, or meet their needs.
- The importance of being future oriented in this work – including re-envisioning learning altogether, so that students experience a more seamless day; integrating STEM into out-of-school time activities; and giving high school students the opportunity to earn course credit for participation in high-quality out-of-school time experiences.
How you can get involved:
Join us online October 18, 2012: http://www.unitedway.org/pages/out-of-school-time.
Tweet or blog about the event - use the hashtags: #KidsWin and #LIVEUNITED. Tweet: I #Support Out-Of-School Time! Help @UnitedWay Improve #Education & Increase HS Graduation Rates! #KidsWin http://ow.ly/enly7.
Post your thoughts, reactions, quotes, photos, etc., on Facebook.
Use our online Out-of-School Time Toolkit to get tools, tips and resources to support your community efforts; including the just-published Out-of-School Time Issue Brief.
- Toolkit: http://outofschooltime.unitedway.org/
Read this article by the Alliance for Excellent Education that links the importance of out-of-school time to preparing high school students for college and career: http://www.unitedway.org/page/-/OST/Out-of-School%20Time%20Issue%20Brief%202012.pdf
Volunteer as a reader, tutor, or mentor to a young person in your community: http://www.unitedway.org/take-action/volunteer