Mainely Kids – The Importance of Early Childhood Education

In Maine there are 78,336 children age birth through five years; 69 % of these children live in households where all available parents are currently working, and 24 % of all Maine children are part of low-income families. Source: Early Childhood Workforce Index 2016

It is widely agreed that the current early care and education system across states is woefully underfunded. The cost of services is out of reach for many working families, including those who earn middle-class wages. Let’s take a look at how that plays out here in Maine. The information below comes from the Economic Policy Institute.

The cost of childcare in Maine:

  • The average annual cost of infant care in Maine is $9,512 – that’s $793 per month.
  • Infant care in Maine costs $144 (1.5%) more than in-state tuition for a 4-year public college.
  • That make Maine one of 33 states and DC where infant care is more expensive than college.
  • In Maine, infant care costs just 4.8% less than average rent.
  • Infant care for one child would take up 16.8% of a typical family’s income in Maine.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, child care is affordable if it costs no more than 10% of a family’s income. By this standard, only 26.7% of Maine families can afford infant care.
  • Child care for a Maine 4-year-old costs $6,870, or $573 each month.
  • Child care for two children – an infant and a 4-year-old – costs $16,382. That’s 63.9% more than average rent in Maine.
  • A typical family in Maine would have to spend 28.9% of their income on child care for an infant and a 4-year-old.
  • A minimum-wage worker in Maine would need to work full time for 32 weeks, or from January to August, just to pay for child care for one infant.
  • In 6 out of 8 metropolitan areas in Maine, more than 90% of child care workers don’t make enough to afford the basic cost of living in their area,
  • A typical childcare worker in Maine would have to spend 46.0% of their earnings to put their own child in infant care.
  • Meaningful childcare reform that capped families’ childcare expenses at 10% of their income would expand Maine’s economy by 1.1%. That’s $622.8 million of new economic activity.
  • A typical Maine family with an infant could save $3,835 on childcare costs if we implemented this reform. This would free up 8.1% of their (post-child care) annual income to spend on other necessities.

Did You Know?

The overwhelming evidence shows that children who enter kindergarten behind are likely to remain behind throughout their educational careers and beyond. These gaps in achievement are difficult and expensive to close with K-12 education alone. We can help ensure children show up to kindergarten ready to learn by providing our youngest learners with options to access high-quality early childhood programs from ages zero to five—where they can develop the full range of skills necessary to be successful in school and life.

In the US, the childcare expenses have climbed nearly twice as fast as overall prices since the recession ended in 2009, according to Labor Department data.

It is one of the biggest expenses that families face. And it is even less affordable for low-wage workers and families with infants.

MaryLou graph

An analysis by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers describes the economic returns to investments in childhood development and early education. Some of these benefits, such as increases in parental earnings and employment, are realized immediately, while other benefits, such as greater educational attainment and earnings, are realized later when children reach adulthood.

Their report, The Economics of Early Childhood Investments, makes the following points:

  • High-quality early education for all would narrow the achievement gap. Dozens of preschool programs have been rigorously examined since the 1960s. Overall, across all studies and time periods, early childhood education increases cognitive and achievement scores by 0.35 standard deviations on average, or nearly half the black-white difference in the kindergarten achievement gap. Since higher income children are currently more likely to have access to high-quality early education, expanding access to all would narrow the achievement.
  • Early childhood education can boost children’s earnings later in life. Long-term analyses suggest that early childhood education can increase earnings in adulthood by 1.3 to 3.5 percent. These earnings gains alone are bigger than the costs of such programs.
  • Earnings gains from increased enrollment in early childhood education would provide benefits that outweigh the costs of the program. Researchers estimate the gain in income for recent statewide programs over a child’s career to be $9,166 to $30,851, after taking out the cost of the program. If all families were able to enroll their children in preschool at the same rate as high-income families, enrollment would increase nationwide by about 13 percentage points and yield net present value of $4.8 billion to $16.1 billion per cohort from earnings gains alone after accounting for the cost of the program. In the long run, these earnings gains translate into an increase in GDP of 0.16 to 0.44 percent.

Parents recognize the importance of early childhood investments and, despite working longer hours for pay, both mothers and fathers are also spending more time interacting with their children. Early childhood education programs can strengthen parents’ attachment to the labor force and increase their earnings potential by providing a safe and nurturing environment that furthers the education and development that parents are providing at home.

  • High-quality, affordable child care can help parents balance work and family responsibilities. Studies show that providing better access to and lowering the cost of high-quality care can significantly increase mothers’ employment rates and This increase in family income has been shown to improve children’s outcomes as well.

Children who enter school at higher levels of readiness have higher earnings throughout their lives. They are also healthier and less likely to become involved with the criminal justice system. These positive spillovers suggest that investments in early childhood can benefit society as a whole.

  • Early childhood education can lower involvement with the criminal justice system. Research shows that improving cognitive and socio-emotional development, investments in early childhood education may reduce involvement with the criminal justice system. Lower crime translates into benefits to society from increased safety and security as well as lower costs to the criminal justice system.
  • Early childhood interventions can reduce the need for remedial education. Research shows that benefits in children’s development may also reduce the need for special education placements and remedial education, thereby lowering public school expenditures.

In total, the existing research suggests expanding early learning initiatives would provide benefits to society of roughly $8.60 for every $1 spent, about half of which comes from increased earnings for children when they grow up.

The Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC summarized the issue this way in a report they released in April 2016: An ambitious national investment in early childhood care and education would provide high societal returns. American productivity would improve with a better- educated and healthier future workforce, inequality would be immediately reduced as resources to provide quality child care are progressively made available to families with children, and the next generation would benefit from a more level playing field that allows for real equality of opportunity.

It is vitally important that we all raise our voices on the importance of quality, affordable and accessible child care for all families.

Early Childhood Education is a local, state and federal issue. And polling shows that it is important to voters across party lines:

  • More than three-fourths of American voters support increasing federal investment to help states provide more access to high-quality early childhood programs for low- and moderate-income families.
  • Voters see access to quality early childhood education as a necessity for today’s families.
  • Voters support federal investment when it doesn’t permanently add to the debt or deficit – something quality early childhood education has proven it can accomplish.
  • Voters overwhelmingly describe a candidate who supports federal investment in state and local early childhood programs as one who is looking out for working- and middle-class families.
  • Americans say our education priorities should be reversed, calling for more investment in early education.

So if you attend a candidate event, or run into one at the grocery store, or post to them on Twitter or Facebook, take a moment to talk about kids and child care.

Here a few ideas to make that easier:

  • Share your childcare story – and then ask the candidate if they have ever faced child care issues in their own family and how they handled it.
  • Remind them that child care needs to be accessible to a culturally and linguistically diverse population – children of refugees and immigrants now account for 25% of the 23 million children under the age of 6.
  • Tell them that childcare providers need to be paid a livable wage – the average income for a full-time early childcare worker in the U.S. in 2015 was just $10.72 an hour.
  • Share with them that the cost of child care is out of reach for many working families in our state – including those who earn middle-class wages.
  • Let them know that investments in high-quality early education generate returns of over $8 for every $1 spent – who wouldn’t want that kind of return on their investment?
  • Tell them that investing in children today is an investment in the future for all of us.

We can close the gap. But waiting until kindergarten is too late. We need to provide equal access right at the starting gate.

MaryLou Beaver

Director

Every Child Matters in Maine