Editor’s Note: This guest post comes from Anne Mosle, a member of Tides Board of Directors and Executive Director of Ascend, a program of the Aspen Institute.

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.

Launched in 2010 as a program of the Aspen Institute, Ascend takes a “two-generation” approach in its strategy, with a lens on parents and their children together.  The program focuses on three key areas—education, economics, and social capital—to change the conversation around families with low-incomes; 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.

A critical aspect of Ascend’s work is listening to, learning from, and lifting up the voices of the most vulnerable families in the United States today.  To that end, Ascend recently commissioned a bipartisan series of focus groups to examine the experiences, perspectives, and needs of low-income families.  By listening to the perspectives of families across demographics—race, gender, and family structure—Ascend aims to elevate their voices and use these findings to inform programmatic and policy work, in particular two-generation strategies to improve educational and economic outcomes for both parents and children.  The findings in the report augment an analysis of the latest Census Bureau data that found the rising poverty rates take a particular toll on young children, young parents, and single-mother families.

Our recent study shows 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.

Most importantly, all the parents who participated in our focus groups 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.”

Click here to download the complete report.

Anne Mosle is Executive Director of Ascend, the Family Economic Security Program at the Aspen Institute.  Prior to the Aspen Institute, Mosle served for three and half years as a Vice President and Officer of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, where she contributed to the development and execution of the foundation’s new strategic framework and overall institutional priorities.  Prior to W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Mosle served as the president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation from 2000-2007 and earlier in her career, was a member of the leadership team at the Center for Policy Alternatives and held positions on Capitol Hill.  Mosle currently serves on Tides Board of Directors.