Investing in Our Children: A Plan to Expand Access to Preschool and Child Care

Cynthia G. Brown, Donna Cooper, Juliana Herman, Melissa Lazarín, Michael Linden, Sasha Post, and Neera Tanden
February 6, 2013

After a hard-fought re-election campaign, President Barack Obama and his team now turn to the work of developing their second-term agenda. Since the election there has been widespread recognition that America’s changing demography helped drive the president’s victory, and this recognition has helped propel immigration reform to the top of Congress’s agenda.

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.

Read the full report from the Center for American Progress:


Investing in Our Children: A Plan to Expand Access to Preschool and Child Care by Center for American Progress

Cynthia G. Brown is Vice President for Education Policy at the Center for American Progress. Donna Cooper is the executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth and was formerly a Senior Fellow with the Economic Policy team at the Center. Juliana Herman is a Policy Analyst with the Education Policy team at the Center. Melissa Lazarín is Director of K-12 Education Policy at the Center. Michael Linden is the Director for Tax and Budget Policy at the Center.Sasha Post is Special Advisor to the President of the Center. Neera Tanden is the President and CEO of the Center.



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