The basic elements of an economic development plan: Attract companies to locate in your town or city, then create industry and friendly zones for retail, as well as tourism promotion and public-private partnerships.
Apparently, if you want to really see “high returns on the investment of public funds into our economy it might be time to start thinking a little less about opportunity zones and a lot more about preschools.”
That’s what Arthur J. Rolnick, senior fellow and co-director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs believes. At the recent meeting of the 2013 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America in Washington D.C., experts testified on improving early childhood development to boost the health of our nation.
A body of evidence has increasingly grown showing that toxic stress and other negative experiences can affect developing children’s brains, which then affects their productivity in the economy and in the whole of society as adults.
Although the research is relatively new, the theory certainly isn’t, and it doesn’t just apply to the USA.
According to a recent article in the New York Times by economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, Japan successfully resolved in 1868, during the Meiji Restoration, to focus on the education and the health care of its people in order to catch up with the economic development of Europe. It did so again after World War II. Sen argued, “Poor public health care and poor education, and the lack of public investment in both, are historic reasons that India’s economic growth rate may never be a robust as China’s.”
In his testimony, Rolnick pointed to research indicating that investments in early childhood development made by governments in partnership with private firms and nonprofit foundations can produce “extraordinarily high economic returns” with “benefits that are low-risk and long-lived.”
“His examples included cost-benefit analyses of several model preschool programs that have followed the lives of students well into adulthood. Programs such as the Perry Preschool Program in Michigan, North Carolina’s and the Chicago Child-Parent Centers have demonstrated that giving children educational support from birth until the age of 5 makes a significant difference.”
“Without support during these early years, a child is more likely to drop out of school, depend on welfare benefits, and commit crime, thereby imposing significant costs on society,” Rolnick said.
The studies showed returns that ranged from $3 to $17 for every dollar invested in early childhood development programs. When adjusted for inflation, that translates into 7 to 18 percent.
“You won’t find a better investment,” Rolnick told the Commission.
“If we want to improve the health and the economic well-being of Americans, it would be wise to start with the youngest and most vulnerable among us.”
These children are preschoolers yet and may indeed be the hope for America. This thought should stimulate parents, teachers, and caregivers to train their children and pupils more thoroughly, discipline them more thoughtfully, and help them lovingly and with a passion for a life and world that they will hopefully make better.