Investments in high quality childcare, early education, and other programs do more than help children. They also benefit taxpayers and strengthen the economy.
It may sound strange to make the argument for helping children in terms of economic returns—after all, shouldn’t we do it simply because it’s the right thing to do?
Preschool affects more than grades: community health & income are affected too! Tweet this!
It’s true that a strong moral or ethical case can be made for investing in early childhood. But the reality is that communities have limited resources, and concerns about investing them efficiently are reasonable.
Pay now or pay later.
A large body of research shows that early education programs can have ‘spillover’ effects that benefit taxpayers by addressing children’s problems early in life rather than later, when solutions are more expensive and less effective.
Early investments reduce the need for remedial programs and reduce criminal justice spending. They can also strengthen parents’ job stability and wages, and increase children’s later adult earnings.
Children who attend high quality preschool programs are less likely to need special education, to be arrested, or to require social services. They tend to be healthier, earn higher incomes, and pay more taxes.
James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, has written extensively and persuasively that investing in early childhood programs is necessary for communities to become globally competitive, improve health and education outcomes, and reduce crime and poverty.
Unequal opportunities due to poverty and other early risk factors reduce our community’s economic efficiency and productivity. Investments in early childhood education can reduce these disparities. Experts in science and in economics agree that investing in early childhood will help ensure the future economic success of communities and of society at large.
Smart programs recognize the role of children’s home environments.
Direct investments in children should be bolstered with investments in parenting and the home environments that parents provide. Positive effects on the home environment are an important pathway through which programs improve children’s lives.
Some research finds that early childhood services and programs pay for themselves. One study focused on the economic benefits of high quality, comprehensive, long-term programs that shared the following components:
school stability from kindergarten through third grade
high levels of language and literacy instruction
high levels of parental involvement
In addition to providing impressive benefits to participating children and their families, programs like these produce large-scale economic benefits that exceed their costs. Some show returns ranging from $4 to $10 per dollar invested.
Risk factors across the first 5 years of life negatively predict high school graduation, overall educational attainment, and employment during early adulthood.
High quality early interventions can enhance cognitive and social skills for young children exposed to early risk factors. Early investment is associated with higher levels of success, such as attending college or obtaining skilled employment.
Investing in early childhood is a necessity, not an option.
Our community needs a skilled and productive workforce if it is to attract the kind of jobs that will sustain a strong economy.
If we continue to choose to under-invest in early childhood, we will continue to pay a higher price later, in the form of remedial education, health expenditures, criminal justice spending, and other costs.
We need a broader range of voices advocating for early investment. Effective partnerships between the business sector and the early childhood field could bring about larger gains than either group could achieve alone.
It’s time to transform our view of high quality childcare and early education, envisioning it as a societal obligation in addition to an individual responsibility.
The national nonprofit Zero to Three provides the following tips for promoting early childhood investments in the community:
Emphasize to business leaders how early childhood investments provide dual benefits: immediate gains for children and families, and long-term economic benefits for the business community
Join community or civic organizations. Share information about the importance of early childhood to the economy and enlist new advocates for children’s programs
Make your information available in language appropriate to your audience. Knowledge that is common in the early childhood field may be new to other groups.