Why Investing in Kids Is Good for Business

Boys using digital tablet together in elementary school
Boys using digital tablet together in elementary school

The evidence is clear.

Investing in early childhood education and quality childcare has far-reaching and long-lasting positive effects on the growth and development of our children. We know through the most compelling kinds of research and data that over 90 percent of brain development occurs between a child's birth and the time they are five-years-old, and that so many life outcomes are impacted and determined during those precious early years.

We also know that investing in early childhood education improves the educational attainment of individuals in the long term, and will lead them to better and brighter economic futures. These realities show us beyond a shadow of a doubt that when children start behind, they so often stay behind, and are greatly limited in their life trajectory and ability to become contributing members of their community.

Despite these facts, we as a society have failed to adequately react to this reality through the policies and priorities we promote in this country. And as President Obama mentioned in his last State of the Union speech, "It's time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women's issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us."

These realities do not only trouble me as a new father of 10-month-old twins, who like any parent wants the best for their kids; or as a community member, who too often see's the struggles of families who cannot pay for the quality care that their children need to succeed; or even as a social justice advocate who believes in equal opportunity regardless of a person's socioeconomic background. I'm also troubled as a local elected leader who clearly sees the costs and negative effects that manifest in our communities when we don't make adequate and early investments in our kids.

The science is compelling.

As Dr. Craig Ramey of Virginia Tech has shown through a 30-year longitudinal study and comparison of at-risk youth who received quality childcare and those who didn't, 23 percent of individuals who received childcare were college graduates by age 30, compared to just 6 percent of those who did not. The study also showed clear differences in economic and occupational outcomes between groups, where 75 percent of those that received childcare were employed full-time, compared to only 53 percent of those in the control group; and where those in the control group were six times more likely to receive public assistance.

As this and many other studies are helping to show, systemic issues like higher crime rates, depressed incomes, and a greatly unequal economy are just a few of the long-term repercussions driven by the failure to address issues of access and quality of childcare. This may seem to some as an issue outside the purview of local government, but I would tell you that that local leaders around the country are experiencing first-hand the issues caused by a lack of action at the State and Federal level.

And as local governments are being forced to spend money on running expanding correctional institutions, educational assistance, and special education programs; these are all issues that are largely impacted and in some ways driven by a lack of prioritizing the early development years of our children. We see issues in our workforce, in public safety, and in our public schools, where programs and investments we make at this stage can be seen as metaphorically treating symptoms instead of causes.

Investments in early childhood education can yield a substantial return on investment. Every dollar put into early childhood education can yield more than $8 to the general public; accrued from savings on other public services and remedial costs -- costs that we share collectively as a society.

This issue is no longer just for the bleeding hearts, the family advocates, or the parents of young children. This is an issue that affects every facet of our society -- from the business community, to our community safety, to the limited public resources we share. I believe strongly that we as a country need to take this commitment to the next level. It is not only the right thing to do, but a smart, cost-effective and data-driven thing to do.

The very future of our country will be tied to our ability to get children off to a good start in school and in life. A commitment to anything less isn't just bad for business, it's bad for American progress.