More than 50 years ago, 123 African American 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families in Ypsilanti, Michigan, participated in an experiment. About half attended a pioneering early education program called Perry Preschool, while the other half the — control group — did not have the same opportunity. Remarkably, researchers have been able to track the lives of most of these children ever since. Their research found that the Perry preschoolers had greater academic success, higher earnings and better health than the control group.
According to the research performed by a Nobel Prize-winning economist and his colleagues, the children of the Perry preschoolers are also better off because of their parents’ experience. As the Perry preschoolers got older, they became better educated and developed greater socio-emotional skills than the control group. They became better parents, and their children grew up in more stable two-parent families that earned, on average, about $10,000 more a year, lifting many of them out of poverty.
Compared to the offspring of the control group, these children of the Perry preschoolers are themselves substantially less likely to have been suspended or assigned to special education, and more likely to have graduated from high school. They are more likely to have jobs and be in good health and less likely to be divorced. (Their parents, the “preschoolers,” are now in their late 50s and early 60s.)
These results are consistent with the findings of the experiment conducted by the city of Boston in the late 1990s. The bottom line is that quality early education accelerates upward economic mobility across generations.
A study performed by a Federal Reserve Bank economist measuring the long-run effects of childhood Medicaid eligibility on adult health and economic outcomes found that early childhood Medicaid eligibility reduces mortality and disability, increases employment, and reduces disability payments up to 50 years later. Medicaid has saved the government more than its original cost and saved more than 10 million quality adjusted life years.
Another study found that when the children who grew up in Medicaid-eligible households were in their 20s, they were more likely to have gone to college than those whose families, despite their similar economic circumstances, had the misfortune of living in a state where their families were not eligible for Medicaid. Now they earn more and pay more taxes.
A researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and her colleagues estimated that for every dollar spent on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the long-run benefits to the child measured by increased income and longer life expectancy are a whopping $56.
Other research studies have found that SNAP has had a decades-long effect on the health, self-sufficiency and the overall well-being of children who came of age in those families. These children are more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college, earn more and stay out of prison.
It stands to reason then that providing assistance to children born into poverty is an excellent investment for the country. Less welfare payments, more taxes collected, less crime and less incarceration. It would seem from these studies that these programs are wise expenditures because they will save the country money in the long run.
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The pro-life people need to add pro-quality-of-life to their list of aspirations. It is incumbent on them to level the playing field for young children. True pro-lifers should make every effort to ensure that all children are given a chance to have a good shall we say, life.
Murad Antia, now retired, taught finance at the Muma College of Business on the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida.