Strengthening Ties

The Case for Building a Social Policy Centered on Families

Most of the social and economic policies in the U.S. do not explicitly address or take into account the growing importance of families as sources of human capital and determinants of individual success. Even the small subsets of programs that we conventionally frame as part of “family policy” are often based on long-defunct assumptions about the actual structure of modern families.

Today, New America’s Family-Centered Social Policy Initiative released its first report, calling for new frameworks to help American families navigate today’s challenges. According to the report, Strengthening Ties: The Case for Building a Social Policy Centered on Families, outdated and siloed social policies fail to help families thrive and prosper in the face of new economic, demographic, and technological changes. But the authors view the problems facing the family as matters of political economy that humans and human institutions have the power to change.

The challenge of framing effective social policy to meet the needs of families is complicated by a series of enormously important megatrends. These trends are reshaping how families live together, participate in the economy, and interact with the the world around them:

  • Changing role of women —and men — in the workplace

  • Rise of single parenthood

  • Rising cost of living for families

  • Generational downward mobility

  • Decline in the number and quality of jobs

  • Decline in family business

  • Pressures of digital technologies

In designing and implementing social programs, policymakers often fail to account for the enduring impact of the family, its fast-changing composition, or the pressures created by economic and technological change. Policy “silos” prevent the strategic coordination of support systems and social programs, which range from child care to early and higher education to workforce and small business development to ensuring access to digital technologies.

It is time to correct this failure to adapt—to think of innovative ways to strengthen families and help them thrive and prosper. In response to the new set of realities and large-scale trends, policymakers must develop new ways to support families across generations. To do so effectively will require bringing together expertise from many policy realms. We need new frameworks for analyzing the increasingly critical role of the family in modern America, examining the influence of technology on families and social networks, and exploring ideas for policies and programs that will more effectively support the modern American family in all its diversity. This initial report makes the case for rethinking social policy and explains New America’s approach to building a new family-centered policy framework.


Strengthening Ties


Seeta Peña Gangadharan is a program fellow at New America's Open Technology Institute (OTI) and an assistant professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Lisa Guernsey is deputy director of the Education Policy program and director of the Learning Technologies project at New America.

Phillip Longman was policy director and managing editor of New America’s Open Markets program. 

Mary Alice McCarthy is the director of the Center on Education & Skills with the Education Policy program at New America (CESNA). Her work examines the intersection between higher education, workforce development, and job training policies

Liza Mundy is a senior fellow at New America, and the former director of the organization’s Breadwinning and Caregiving program. She is the author of Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II.

Rachel Black is the co-director of the Family-Centered Social Policy program at New America. In this role, she leads research, analysis, and public commentary around a portfolio of issues devoted to creating a more equitable public policy approach to  advancing a new vision for social policy that allows all families to thrive in an era of growing risk, uncertainty, and inequality.

Greta Byrum is the director of the Resilient Communities program at New America. She reimagines the way we design, build, and manage communications systems to support local residents as leaders, organizers, and preparedness experts.

Laura Bornfreund is director of early & elementary education policy with the Education Policy program and co-director of the Family Centered Social Policy program at New America. She leads a team of writers and analysts working on new ideas for improving children’s birth-through-third grade learning experiences.

Abbie Lieberman is a policy analyst with the Education Policy program at New America. She is a member of the Early & Elementary Education Policy team, where she provides research and analysis on policies that impact children from birth through third grade

Reid Cramer is director of the Millennials Initiative at New America. Previously, he served as the Asset Building program's research director and as a co-director of New America's Next Social Contract Initiative.

Barry Lynn was the director of the Open Markets program at New America. He is author of Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction (Wiley 2010) and End of the Line: The Rise and Coming Fall of the Global Corporation (Doubleday 2005).