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One of the statistics that has always fueled my passion for, and urgency in, the work in Doña Ana County is our poverty rate.
One in every four people in our county live in poverty (26 percent), according to New Mexico Voices for Children. But that’s not the number that drives me. It’s that one in three children under 17 live in poverty (38 percent), and two in five children under 4 (40 percent) live in poverty too.
Poverty is growing the younger you look. And what many studies have shown is that children who grow up in poverty are far more likely to stay there as adults.
But…research has shown it doesn’t have to be that way, if our young people follow the “Success Sequence.”
The Success Sequence was made popular by authors Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill at the Brookings Institution who began looking at the financial wellbeing of Millennials and found that 97 percent of them weren’t in poverty during their 30s if they had followed this path: graduate high school; get a full-time job in your 20s; get married; and have children.
The publication “Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity” recently reported on a new study from Wendy Wang and Brad Wilcox of the Institute for Family Studies that looked at the data in response to criticisms that the success sequence didn’t necessarily work for young people of color or who were from low-income families and face systemic barriers to success.
What did they find? The Success Sequence works for everyone.
Among Hispanic young adults who followed the sequence, 97% were not in poverty. Among African American young adults, 96% were not in poverty. Among young adults who came from low-income families (bottom third of incomes), 94% were not in poverty. Among those who grew up in “non-intact” families, 95% were not in poverty. Among those who followed the sequence and do not have a college degree, 95% were not in poverty.
As they looked at these diverse young adults in their 30s, they found, in fact, that 80 to 86 percent of those who’d followed the Success Sequence were in the middle- and higher-income brackets.
This really does come as great news for all of the groups in our community who are working diligently to come alongside our children and families to help lift them out of poverty.
Admittedly, there are still barriers that need to be overcome, like the public benefits “cliff effect” that penalizes a growth in earnings with a more substantial loss in benefits that recipients simply can’t afford to lose. The key for our young people is to either not enroll in these programs in the first place. or enroll if they need to but plan an exit strategy ahead of time to “out-earn” their benefits.
Another key intervention in supporting young people is helping them build strong, lasting marriages. For people like me who come from broken homes, marriage and relationship training can be a game-changer to the generation of young people who have grown up with a U.S. divorce rate of somewhere between 40 to 50 percent.
In Doña Ana County, we know that 37 percent of our children are growing up in single parent families, 8 percent higher than the national average. Statewide, this disproportionately affects children of color: 60 percent of Native-American children, 51.5 percent of African-American children and 45 percent of Hispanic children grow up in single parent homes compared to 29 percent of white children. And historically, children in single-parent homes have faced much higher poverty rates than those in two-parent homes. But, the Success Sequence can demonstrably change this story.
So, what’s the bottom line?
As our students navigate the education-to-employment continuum, information like this is power! We can come alongside our students with encouragement and information that breaks cycles of poverty for good. When our students are in position to build strong economic futures, they will create a ripple effect that has a positive impact on the social determinants of health and change economic futures for good.
Tracey Bryan is president/CEO of The Bridge of Southern New Mexico. She can be reached at TraceyBryan@thebridgeofsnm.org