On Thursday and Friday of last week, I attended a Childhood Development Summit in Helena, Montana. In attendance were about 250 early childhood providers and funders and other NGO leaders.
As one part of the Summit, I participated in a 4-person panel. One of my fellow panelists was the Sheriff of near-by Cascade County, Bob Edwards.
The Sheriff brought home the agonizing outcome of poor youth development which we have learned about so often. His prison, with authorized 380 beds, now has 420 inmates. Of them, 80% of the women inmates are high school drop outs and 75% of the male inmates are drop outs.
But that was not the most electrifying part of what he had to say! No, that was when he told us that:
-Prisoners whom he brought in to jail 20 years ago, are coming back again and again, calling him by his first name and congratulating him as they have seen him being promoted. Recidivism is rampant.
-And it gets worse: he now has prisoners coming in who ask to be put in a particular cell block so they can be with their father who is there in prison at the same time. Or a wife comes in, asking to be near her husband who is already there.
-It gets even worse: The Sheriff is now seeing incarcerations involving three generations of the same family: grandfather, father and son. At the same time. This horrifying spectacle led me to recall being in a P&G plant years ago and having dinner with a Grandfather, father and son, all working there at the same time. What a contrast!
We talk about breaking the cycle of poverty. I have read that among children born in 1990 to a family in the bottom income quintile, only 9% will graduate from college. It is no coincidence this is the same percentage (9%) who moved to the upper income quintile.
But what Sheriff Edwards brought home in an unforgettable way is that we have to break the cycle of criminality.
Childhood development is critical to this.
Sheriff Edwards' deeply-felt testimony brought home to me that helping a child achieve what early education and caring development can provide impacts not only them. It will impact their spouse, their children, their grandchildren.
We know that the return on investment in the development of a child pays out at better than 2:1, considering only the higher income of the child and his or her lower costs of repeat grades, special education, involvement in the criminal system, etc.
Just think how much that return is expanded as the benefits of a mature, stable income-earning adult are passed down through his or her children and then their children.
We have the opportunity to go a long way in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and criminal behavior. We must seize it.
We read about nother dimension of the rippling impact of early childhood development in a column in today's Enquirer written by Catherine Rampell. It recognizes how good child care and pre-K options allow parents and often single parents* to be more fully employed in better jobs. I have included portions of this column below:
In 2013’s and 2014’s State of the Union speeches, President Obama proposed universal pre-kindergarten as a means of helping poor children catch up with their richer peers.
In this year’s speech, he eschewed all mention of universal pre-K. Instead he spoke of “ universal child care,” as a means of helping working parents.
Today, both proposals seem to have lost any momentum they may have initially had. Which is a shame, because they are actually two sides of the same coin — and, recognized as such, could provide a sort of double dividend for the American economy.
At this point, you’ve probably already heard all about how public spending on high-quality preschool helps poor kids achieve more later in life and improves the government’s bottom line as a result. As research from Nobel economics laureate James J. Heckman has showed, early investment in disadvantaged children improves academic achievements, career prospects and, ultimately, their lifetime income, which brings in more tax dollars. It also reduces public spending on criminal justice, remedial education, health care, and safety-net programs that disproportionately get used by people who grew up poor. Heckman’s work suggests that a dollar spent on high-quality early-childhood education programs produces a higher return on investment than does almost any major alternative.
But that’s looking only at the effect of early-childhood education programs on kids. Improving access to high-quality child care and preschool offers even bigger returns when you also consider their effect on parents.
That’s because they can help parents who want to work stay attached to the labor force, thereby improving their lifetime earning potential, too.
Survey data suggest that many stay-at-home mothers want to work outside the home, at least part time. Why is this? The problem probably isn’t sexist husbands. Rather, families weigh the costs of paid child care against mom’s post-tax take-home pay and decide that it’s just not worth it for her to take a job. If every dollar of mom’s paycheck goes toward child care and other household help, she might as well handle all these responsibilities herself.
But that’s the wrong calculus: By dropping out of the workforce, these mothers are not just eliminating their current earnings; they are depressing their future earnings, too. Research shows that women who take time off from paid work to raise kids suffer permanently lower wages. Families are considering only the immediate problem of money coming in and going out today, rather than the long-term problem of how a decision to outsource some household production today might affect the family’s collective earnings tomorrow.
*Over 50% of children under 6 live with families where all available parents work.
We see here two additional reasons why providing early childhood development support through home visiting of the kind offered by "Every Child Succeeds" and quality pre-K pay out abundantly, financially and in the social health of our communities and nation.
SURELY THE TIME HAS COME TO ACT.