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Focus Group Results on Low-Income Parents’ Aspirations for Themselves and Their Children

As America struggles to regain its economic footing, the nation’s most vulnerable families -- parents of young children who live at 200% of poverty or less -- express strong feelings of frustration and
disappointment with their lives today, but they are working hard to ensure that their children have better lives, according to new focus group research.

The focus groups also found that even as vulnerable families struggle to provide economic stability for their children, parents -- especially mothers -- continue to have strong dreams and aspirations to provide a better future for their children.

Single mothers in particular are optimistic about a brighter future for their children, and hold opportunity as an important value and economic opportunity as a key goal, according to the focus groups, which were commissioned by Ascend, the Family Economic Security Program at the Aspen Institute, and conducted by a bipartisan team of Lake Research Partners and American Viewpoint. Most importantly, all the parents who participated viewed education and the skills it can lead to, both for themselves and their children, as essential pathways to a better job and a brighter future.

As a single mother in Detroit said, “Like I tell them, you need an education. I mean the streets and the hanging out and all the other stuff can wait. There is a future in education. Do for yourself because I am not going to always be here to provide and take care of you, so you need to be educated.”

As part of its qualitative research, Ascend commissioned a series of focus groups to listen to the voices and understand the experiences and aspirations of low-income parents across gender, race, and family structure. The findings augment an analysis of the latest Census Bureau data conducted by Child Trends and commissioned by Ascend that found the rising poverty rates take a particular toll on young children, young parents and single-mother families.

The report highlights some of the key findings and focuses on the perceptions of single and married parents with low incomes at a time when the weak economy has brought economic uncertainty to many American families. Conducted in Detroit, New York City, Albuquerque, Los Angeles, and Denver in September and October 2011, these focus groups were intended to provide insights on the attitudes, opinions and perceptions of two-generation strategies to help both parents and their children and are not meant to represent the view of all parents living on low incomes and cannot be projected to any specific population.

Key Findings:

  • For parents, the key watchwords for their hopes in this economy are economic security and stability.

Instability marks today’s reality, where decisions of others can completely turn the economy upside down. People feel they have little control over their own economic lives. Single mothers with low incomes are even more at risk from instability: many feel that they even if they begin to make progress financially, a sick child, a new bill, or a late arrival at work can turn their lives upside down. Economic
security is now the long-term goal that can come only from greater economic stability.

  • Low-income single mothers, not surprisingly, are particularly hard-pressed and at the margins economically.

These are parents with no cushion, holding low-paying and often unstable jobs, trying to improve their situation but finding themselves short of time and money to do so. They believe a good education will be key for their children, and that a better education that will lead to a good-paying job is key for themselves. They worry about the quality of their children’s schools and their ability to get their children some form of higher education. They are extremely motivated to provide a better future for their children and to help them avoid the mistakes they made themselves. Their goals for themselves are deeply intertwined with their goals for their children.

  • Family and friends are a primary support network in providing financial assistance, child care, and an emotional foundation for single parents, particularly single mothers.

For some, church provides invaluable support, both spiritual and as a network of people and services that can help in various and unexpected ways.

  • Parents, single and married, and across gender, race and ethnicity, view education as essential to their children’s success.

They find this more and more difficult to provide as children age. Education is a key value and not just a commodity. Parents recognize that in today’s competitive economy, a bachelor’s degree and job skills training are necessary, though even people with master’s degrees may struggle to find employment. They value early childhood education like pre-school but assume it is available. They worry greatly about achieving and affording higher education and skills training for themselves and their children.

  • In principle, these group participants, especially single mothers, strongly support the concept of two-generation strategies, those programs and policies that are designed to benefit both parents and children.

People immediately liked the idea of educating children and parents together. They believe this would create a synergy of values, motivation, role modeling and success. They place strong importance on providing job training and skills for parents and educational support for children.

About Ascend
Ascend, the Family Economic Security Program at the Aspen Institute, is a hub for breakthrough ideas and
proven strategies that move children and parents, especially women, beyond poverty toward educational
success and economic security. The program focuses on three key areas - education, economics and social
capital - to change the conversation around low-income families; engage across diverse sectors to develop a
network of leaders and political will; and convene forums and create platforms to elevate effective two-
generation policies and community solutions. Ascend takes a "two-generation" approach in its strategy,
focusing on both parents and their children.

About Lake Research Partners
Lake Research Partners is a leading public opinion and political strategy research firm providing expert
research-based strategy for campaigns, issue advocacy groups, foundations, unions, and non-profit

About American ViewPoint
American Viewpoint is one of the most widely-respected public opinion research and strategic message
consulting firms in the United States. Founded in 1985 by Linda DiVall, the company has established a
national reputation for outstanding quantitative and qualitative research in politics, corporate affairs, public
policy and government relations.

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