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Young parents see limited options

September 25, 2018

Young parents nationwide continue to face limited access to opportunities to support their families — and that means thousands in Iowa go without opportunities to advance their education and find stable employment, according to a new report.

“Opening Doors For Young Parents,” released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private philanthropy focused improving the well-being of children, states the United States still has a long way to go when it comes to helping 2.9 million young adult parents complete their education, find stable employment, obtain child care and address other financial and housing insecurities.

This, in turn, has threatened 3.4 million children living with young adult parents, “setting off a chain of diminished opportunities for two of our nation’s future generations,” according to the report, which was released Tuesday.

Some 28,000 young adult parents — or those between the ages of 18 to 24 — in Iowa make up about 10 percent of the young adult population. According to the report, the state is on par with the national average, in which 10 percent of individuals aged 18-24 are also parents.

The report also found that in Iowa:

-- 36,000 children have parents aged 18 to 24.

-- 65 percent of children of young parents live in low-income families, or families with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($40,000 for family of three).

-- 17 percent of young parents have completed an associate degree or higher.

-- 37 percent of young parents are people of color.

The federal poverty level for a family of three hovers around $20,000. But even for Iowa families making 200 percent above that line, or about $40,000 annually, it’s “hard to meet ends on an annual basis,” said Michael Crawford, senior association at the Des Moines-based Iowa Child and Family Policy Center, a not-for-proft research and advocacy organization.

The report includes those who are in two parent families, but Crawford said major challenges exist for single parents.

“They have obstacles there both financially and educationally to try to make ends meet to provide for their family,” he said. “That also leads into what they can provide as far as health care for their family.”

After its expansion in Iowa, Medicaid was made available to young parents at 138 percent above the federal poverty level, or at about $27,000.

However, even with that expansion of Medicaid, young parents nationwide today still are less likely to have health insurance than their non-parent peers or older parents, according to the report.

The report also noted that Iowa does well in its community college system, which offers flexible tracks that makes obtaining a degree possible. However, Crawford said more financial aid, including scholarships or tuition waivers, should be made available to this demographic.

In addition, Iowa should offer subsidies for child care as many struggle to find affordable child care in the state, Crawford said.

The Iowa Child and Family Policy Center also would like to see an expansion of apprenticeship programs statewide, which Crawford said could offer an alternative path to full-time employment.

In addition, the state should continue to support public benefit programs, Crawford said, such as voluntary home visitation programs to help new parents identify risk factors that could lead to child neglect or abuse.

The report states the effort to prevent teenage pregnancy — while successful, as the rate of teens and young adults with children dropped more than 40 percent nationwide from the 1990s — has done little to help those who do have children.

“The nation has made great strides in helping young people postpone parenthood until they have advanced in their education and job training,” the report says. “As a result, America’s children are increasingly likely to benefit from the stability that can come from a family headed by parents who are more prepared for parenthood.

“We must continue these positive trends while strengthening efforts to support the young people who already have children.”

The report calls on policymakers to funnel more resources to establishing educational and training opportunities that prepare young parents for the workforce, a move that would benefit many Iowans, Crawford said.

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