The Center for American Progress concisely and persuasively makes the case for an investment in early childhood development. Here’s their summary:
This issue brief presents a plan to expand educational opportunities and care for children ages 0-5 years old by investing significant federal dollars to:
- Make high-quality preschool universally accessible to all 3- and 4-year-old children
- Enable more lower-income families to afford child care for children ages 0-3 years old
These policies would advance several important national priorities. First, expanding access to preschool and affordable child care would directly improve the lives of millions of mothers and fathers who are struggling to balance the demands of work and family. In addition to the increase in single-parent households, many more two-parent households now have two working spouses. As a result of these two trends, the share of American families with children that have a male breadwinner and a female homemaker dropped from more than half in 1975 to just one in five in 2011. Without a full-time parent caretaker, families with children under the age of 5 now spend an average of 10.1 percent of their household budget on child care. The burden on low-income families is especially heavy—families making less than $1,500 a month who pay for child care for children under the age of 5 spend on average 52.7 percent of their income on these expenses.
Second, investing in young children will also help strengthen America’s human capital. Years of research demonstrate that the first five years of a child’s cognitive and emotional development establish the foundation for learning and achievement throughout life. Too many kids don’t attend preschool or receive high-quality care because their families can’t afford it. But the good news is that children who do participate in these programs experience dramatic life-changing benefits. One summary of the research literature found that without a high-quality early childhood intervention, an at-risk child is:
- 25 percent more likely to drop out of school
- 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent
- 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education
- 60 percent more likely never to attend college
- 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime
Finally, early childhood investments will help address our growing economic inequality and diminishing rates of upward mobility. These trends have been exacerbated by the dramatic changes in America’s family structure. Perhaps the most worrisome change is the increasing number of children who are being raised by low- and lower-middle-income single parents, particularly single mothers. As one sociologist has remarked, “it is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged.” By contrast, lower-income single parents must get by on a single paycheck and without a spouse to help with child care responsibilities. In part as a result, children growing up in a household with only one lower-income parent are more likely to struggle in school, to earn less income as adults, and to experience a wide range of less-favorable life outcomes. By investing in these children while they are still young, we can have a much greater impact at less cost.