First-year graduate students at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs participate in a year-long policy research project (PRP) aimed at identifying a relevant policy issue, collecting and analyzing data regarding this issue, and proposing solutions or strategies to improve the underlying problem. Students work with a client directly involved with or affected by the identified policy issue to determine deliverables that would add to the existing research of the issue area. The client of this PRP, United Way for Greater Austin, commissioned this project to guide their focus on helping low socioeconomic families achieve greater financial stability through the development of a Two-Generation (2-Gen) strategy for the Central Texas region.
2-Gen programs emphasize the importance of education as a means for better economic outcomes. High-quality early childhood education programs allow children to make critical neural connections during a period of substantial growth and development, ultimately better preparing them for pre-kindergarten programs and academic success in subsequent years. On the other end of the educational spectrum, adults working low-paying jobs encounter barriers to career advancement due to lacking credentials or relevant education. It is not uncommon for parents working long hours for low wages to have at least one child in need of high-quality early childhood education, yet they are unable to enroll their child in such programs due to issues such as cost, transportation, and time away from work. Further compounding this common problem is the fact that time spent between work and parenting leaves little room for these adults to pursue educational opportunities for workforce development. 2-Gen programs seek to resolve the issues complicating this problem of financial instability by providing high-quality educational and training programs for both parents and children, which are even more effective when intentionally coordinated so that the family develops as a single unit in a positive direction.
The Central Texas region, which includes the city of Austin and its surrounding suburbs, has recently experienced substantial growth due to the popular technology hub located within this region. The region’s economic success, however, does not negate the problems of income inequality and generational poverty relevant to any urban center. As property values close to downtown Austin continue to rise due to high demand, lower income families are often displaced out of the city’s center and into a “crescent of poverty” covering the east and southeast areas of the region. Although Austin is known for having numerous nonprofit organizations, service providers are not always accessible to those in need of their services. Further adding to this problem is Austin’s transportation infrastructure, which is not necessarily conducive to quick and easy transit times.
The broad focus of this report is to identify existing research and practices regarding 2-Gen initiatives, to determine which aspects are relevant to the Central Texas region, and to develop a strategy encompassing recommendations for both this region of focus as well as policy implications at all levels of government. The research consisted of several avenues for data collection, which include: a literature review; a program scan at the local, state, and federal levels; and site visits within Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio. Data collected specifically relevant to the Central Texas region include a labor market analysis, a needs assessment, and a mapping of current organizational assets. Obtaining and analyzing this data allowed the team to better understand 2-Gen program development, outcomes, impact measurements, and areas for improvement.
The research team then developed practical applications for the information collected, ultimately contributing to the proposed anti-poverty strategy through the intentional coordination of 2-Gen services by leveraging existing organizational assets to best address the area’s most salient needs. In addition, the team proposed an evaluation strategy involving cost-benefit equations, program evaluation metrics, and a screening tool to predict the likelihood of a program achieving successful outcomes. The report then concludes with policy recommendations at the local, state, and federal levels, as well as a summary of the populations affected by financial instability and future directions for this field.