by David Safier
[R]ecent studies show that of any policy aimed to help struggling families, aid for high-quality care has the biggest economic payoff for parents and their children — and even their grandchildren. It has the biggest positive effect on women’s employment and pay. It’s especially helpful for low-income families, because it can propel generations of children toward increased earnings, better jobs, improved health, more education and decreased criminal activity as adults.A recent study out of the University of Chicago looks at two long-term studies out of North Carolina where young children from low-income families received free, full-time child care. The children and their families were compared to a control group. The mothers of the children in child care earned more than those in a control group, which is no surprise, but they were still earning more twenty years later. The children stayed in school longer, and they earned more as well. The study found that at age 30, the men who had been in quality child care earned almost $20,000 more a year than the control group and the women earned $2,500 more. The researchers admit that the small sample size of the study means that $20,000 figure for the men likely isn't representative, but even if it were considerably less, it would still be significant.
[A]fter calculating effects like the cost to society of unemployment, crime and poor health, the researchers concluded that it returned $7.30 for every dollar spent.And that doesn't factor in the personal and social value of helping people live happier, healthier lives.
The study found the United States spends 0.4 percent of G.D.P. on child care, the lowest level among industrialized countries and half the average.So we could find a way to do it if we cared enough, or were smart enough.