Op-ed: Uncertainty is the Enemy of Prosperity


This op-ed, by Ascend’s Executive Director Anne Mosle, was published in The Hill on March 24, 2020.

There’s a truth we’re all experiencing now: Uncertainty is the enemy of prosperity. Not knowing if and when we can get food for our families. Not knowing if or when we’ll go back to work. Not knowing when we’ll have dependable, quality care for our children.

Not knowing if we’ll have the flexibility to meet all of our responsibilities – from going to work, to raising kids, to caring for our elderly parents. Not knowing how we’ll be able to make up lost wages. Not knowing if an action or interaction can put human life at risk.

As we look to the day this crisis is over, and seek solutions to ensure this never happens again, we should do so in a way that offers permanent fixes for the millions of families who have experienced this level of disruption on a daily basis for generations — before COVID-19 came to dominate the news cycle, the economy, and our lives. The time to address these structural inequities is now when we are rebuilding systems that impact our lives and dictate the kind of life we each can have.

Right now, many parents don’t know what to do when their childcare is closed. So far, 46 states have closed schools. For families with low incomes, this is a constant reality: Nearly thirty percent report they cannot find child care that is either affordable or has open slots on a regular basis. Headlines are filled with people worried about when they’ll be able to go back to work and trying to figure out the hours they’ll need to work to stay afloat while they juggle responsibilities. 

Half the hourly workers in the U. S., many of them women of color, get less than a week’s notice and sometimes same-day notice about being scheduled to work. This makes going to school, arranging childcare and taking care of a loved one a difficult task. 

This feeling of anxiety that many Americans feel now is the status quo in the daily life of families with low incomes. Uncertainty is the damaging byproduct of poverty. What we are feeling now as coronavirus moves through our nation is something we never want to feel again. Let’s make it so no one ever has to.

Because families have been facing these challenges for some time now, there are pockets of solutions underway through companies, as well as in states and communities. The Magnolia’s Mother’s Trust in Jackson, Miss. has piloted guaranteed income for black mothers. They get $1,000 cash on a monthly basis, with no strings attached, for 12 consecutive months.

This doubles their income. These families can use this money as they see fit. As we see Senator Mitt Romney and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin calling for similar interventions in the aftermath of the pandemic, we encourage leaders to learn from those already experimenting with these solutions to end the long-lasting scourge of generational poverty.

Safe and Sound, a child advocacy organization in San Francisco, is expanding access to their TALK phone line to ensure families can get parenting, childcare and crisis support in a time of heightened pressure and stress for parents and children alike.

While this is necessary when we are practicing social distancing, this is also effective for families in non-crisis times. Making this service available year-round can cut down on leaving work to drive to appointments and making families have in-person visits when online conversations are a more manageable solution.

Cities are also stepping up support. Seattle, one of the cities hardest hit by the virus, is providing $800 in grocery vouchers to more than 6,000 families to make sure they can nourish themselves and their children while schools and support facilities are closed.

The city is working to expand this program to not only families already enrolled in city-subsidized child care and food-assistance programs, but dislocated workers such as Uber drivers, food app delivery workers and others in the gig economy not covered by traditional employee protections and benefits. 

As Congress moves to implement the bi-partisan Families First Coronavirus Response Act and begins work on a major stimulus package, as states consider changes they can make to regulations and companies weigh changes to policies and practices, let’s truly put families first — not just when we’re in crisis, but as an enduring priority now and for the future.

It’s time for Congress and elected leaders to learn and learn quickly, from front-line family prosperity innovators. We need to take immediate action and make sound investments that offer short- and long-term financial stability and improved well-being for all of our families. 

Some will say uncertainty will always exist in some measure. Fair. But we see the damage it does when it exists at such a scale. We don’t want to live that way. As we get the nation back on its feet, let’s resolve that no one should ever have to again.

Anne Mosle is the executive director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute, which is focused on family prosperity and well-being innovations for children and families.