LSA Blog

American Families: State of the Working Class: Family Policy and Child Well-Being

Blog Date: 
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
By: Alex Johnston, Member Engagement Intern

In February I attended a forum with some of the nation's leading experts on family policy and child well-being. This was my second hill forum as an intern for Lutheran Services in America. The event was sponsored by The American Academy of Political and Social Science and The Annie E. Casey Foundation. The American Academy of Political and Social Science is one of the nation's oldest learning societies, and is dedicated to the use of social science to address important social problems. The Annie E. Casey Foundation is devoted to developing a brighter future for millions of children at risk of poor educational, economic, social, and health outcomes. Their work strengthens families, builds stronger communities, and ensures access to opportunity that children need to succeed.

The speakers on the panel were Andrew Cherlin, A professor on public policy at John Hopkins, Michael Gerson, a columnist for the Washington Post, Ron Haskins, Senior Consultant at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Sara McLanahan, a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton, and Robert Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard.

Andrew Cherlin spoke about the American working class, marriage trends and birthrates. We are seeing broad social shifts in class and status today, including trends toward cohabiting versus marriage and divorce rates on the rise, depending on level of education. This is the first generation of white, middle-class Americans that are not expected to fare better than their parents did. 

Sarah McLanahan addressed the important topic of what family change means for children and the importance of a family support system on the health and educational well-being of children. If a strong system isn't in place, down the road children can have lower cognitive ability and higher health and mental health problems, especially amongst boys, and are not likely to do as well in school.

Robert Putnam addressed the issues facing American life today, including what is seen as the collapse of working class families and the divide between rich and poor. He stressed the importance of extracurricular activities and time spent with the child, and how this can differ based on socio –economic status. Putnam says that sitting down with kids at the dinner table directly affects the amount of money the child will make in the future. He stressed that extracurricular activities are also so important in a child's education by helping children with problem solving, teamwork, and perseverance, all important qualities for the working world. But that the costs to participate in sports and activities (Which may have been free in the past) create barriers to participation.

Ron Haskins addressed the issue of birthrates outside of wedlock. He shed light on some positives that he has been seeing. From 1991 to now, teen pregnancies have gone down every year except for two. There were many things to consider in this conversation, and how social changes impact poverty rates.

To learn more about LSA's work with Children, Youth & Families, visit

To keep the conversation going around fighting poverty in America, check out our keynote speakers at our upcoming Annual Conference, including Dr. Kathryn Edin and her groundbreaking research:


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