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University of Wisconsin–Madison

A Potential Solution for Multi-generational Poverty

Multi-generational poverty has proven to be a tough cycle to break. In a recent Washington Post article, it follows a Maryland County and their effort to end this multi-generational poverty. Maryland lawmakers proposed a new approach: integrate services such as early childhood development, temporary cash assistance and mental health programming.

This new approach looks at the needs of a family as a whole, rather than viewing children and parents separately. Legislators are calling this a two-generational approach.

“This is a process for working toward benefiting whole families,” Sarah Haight, the associate director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute, said Tuesday.

A preview of the interactive map. Image Courtesy of the New York Times website.

The issue of multi-generational poverty was a significant theme in this year’s Go Big Read selection, Hillbilly Elegy. Vance chronicles the struggles of growing up in a poor neighborhood in Appalachia, and how it is difficult to move out of this cycle.

“And it is in Greater Appalachia where the fortunes of working-class whites seem to be dimmest. From low social mobility to poverty to divorce and drug addiction, my home is a hub of misery” (4).

J.D. Vance and his half-sister, Lindsay, growing up in Ohio. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

Like Vance’s neighborhood, many of the families in Maryland grow up in poverty. “Recent census data shows that the number of Maryland children living in poverty would fill 2,434 school buses,” explained Nicholette Smith-Bligen, an executive director of family investment within the Maryland Department of Human Services. “That’s saying to us that this program (the two-generation approach) is critical.”

Allegany County, in a rural area of Western Maryland, is where 20 percent of the state’s population lives in poverty. The county has begun to view their local system with this new two-generation approach. Many departments in the county have collaborated with each other to create a Head Start center, GED classes and financial education programs.

This opportunity allows families to have a plan with services to use as an outlet.

Multi-generational poverty is a monstrous problem in the United States, and it has proven to be difficult to diminish. However, if this new two-generation approach proves to be continuously successful, other states may follow in Maryland’s footsteps.