Policies to improve family stability

A shadowed family walks through a town.

On Feb. 25, 2020, Rashawn Ray, a David M. Rubenstein Fellow at The Brookings Institution, testified before Congress’s Joint Economic Committee in a hearing titled “Improving Family Stability for the Wellbeing of American Children.” Ray used his testimony to brief lawmakers on the recent trends in family formation and stability, the best ways to interpret family trends across race and social class, and which polices might be best suited to improve family stability.

Using data mostly from his recent book with Dr. Pamela Braboy Jackson, entitled “How Families Matter: Simply Complicated Intersections of Race, Gender, and Work,” Ray highlighted the following observations:

  1. Married households have decreased over the past half century, while single-parent households, extended family arrangements, and cohabiting couples have increased. But, compared to the year 1900, single-parent households have only increased slightly.
  2. Traditional family arrangement of a father working outside of the home and a mother staying home with the kids seems to be reserved for very high earners. Unfortunately, many single-parents simply do not have the resources to keep up in the long term, especially if they are trying to pursue more education, work toward a credential for higher pay, or obtain a part-time job to get out of debt or save for their children’s college.
  3. Defying stereotypes about deadbeat dads, Black men, compared to men in other racial groups, are more likely to bathe children, play and read to their children, take children to activities, help with homework, and talk with children about their day. And, Black men are much more likely to be involved in their children’s lives when not living with their children than white or Latino fathers. Still, this is not enough. Fathers need to continue to increase their participation as caregivers and house workers within the home.

Ray concluded by encouraging the committee to pass policies to stabilize families. These policies include focusing on a living wage, high-quality jobs with family-friendly benefits, and affordable child care. Using his own family story, Ray noted how these polices helped his mother—who raised him as a single parent and put herself through nursing school—have a child that fulfilled the success sequence.

To read his full testimony, click here. Watch full video of Ray’s testimony (starting at the 42-minute mark) below.