A possible short-term benefit of early childhood programs: packaging them with adult job training programs

Some recent posts at this blog have been discussing the political problem that early childhood programs’ economic development benefits are mostly long-term, while political leaders often want results before the next election. So far, I have suggested two short-term benefits of early childhood programs: special education cost savings, and property value increases due to higher school test scores. Today I suggest a third possible short-term benefit: packaging early childhood programs with adult job training programs for the parents of the child participants.

This packaging would require some change in early childhood programs. They would have to be offered in conjunction with some job training program that did a good job of addressing the job training needs of parents.

For packaging early childhood programs with some other program “X” to be a real way to increase the short-term benefits of early childhood programs, there has to be some reason why the packaging makes sense. Otherwise, you could claim short-term benefits for early childhood programs by packaging the programs with ANY program that has great short-term benefits. But for these short-term benefits to be legitimately associated with early childhood programs, there have to be some gains from the package. For example, perhaps the packaging of program X with the early childhood program might somehow increase the returns to both programs because of some synergies between program X and the early childhood program.

Adult job training for parents of child participants in early childhood programs might have such synergies. Early childhood programs often provide some free child care for parents. This additional parent time could be used for job training. In addition, knowing their child is in a high-quality early childhood program may make parents more positive about investing in their own future.

Adult job training programs for parents may also increase the rate of return to early childhood programs.  For example, research by Duncan, Kalil, and Ziol-Guest suggests that added family income when a child is in the age range from zero to five will have large effects in increasing that child’s adult earnings. The combination of better parental earnings and a good early childhood program may have more dramatic effects in increasing the former child participant’s earnings as an adult.

As James Heckman has argued, it is harder to run good adult job training programs than good early childhood programs. But adult job training programs can have good rates of return if they are focused on employers’ skill needs.

In chapter 7 of Investing in Kids, I do some simulations of the potential effects of combining pre-k programs with high-quality training programs for parents.  The training programs are only assumed to be used by parents who are economically disadvantaged. I find that such training programs can potentially double or triple the magnitude of economic development benefits as a percent of total program costs after five years.  For example, a universal pre-k program by itself will increase state residents’ earnings after 5 years by 16% of the program’s costs. A universal pre-k program, packaged with a high-quality community college training program, will increase state residents’ earnings after five years by 47% of the combined costs of the two programs.

This calculation does not allow for any synergy effects between the pre-k program and the adult job training. The short-term and long-term benefits of this package could be much greater if there are such synergies.

This packaging proposal could benefit from some pilot experiments. Can we effectively combine early childhood programs with job training programs for parents? Is the combined package more effective than running such programs separately?  These are questions that could be answered with appropriately designed research studies.

About timbartik

Tim Bartik is a senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, a non-profit and non-partisan research organization in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His research specializes in state and local economic development policies and local labor markets.
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7 Responses to A possible short-term benefit of early childhood programs: packaging them with adult job training programs

  1. Annemarie Harris says:

    This is an interesting idea. I now that research shows that young children in families with financial stability have a greater likelihood of school and life success. I understand and support that children in poverty have an increased chance of success when there is income stability and growth of the parents/caregivers in their lives.
    So it would make sense to link early childhood programs (designed for the children) with job training – helping the parents achieve financial stability. But, what is not addressed with this strategy is the development of parent skills and beliefs that support the positive development and learning of young children. Parents with jobs can still foster the negative growth of children, by the way they talk with, discipline, teach, etc. their children.
    I would submit that we need to provide a comprehensive curriculum to parents of young children. They need job training skills to acquire employment, but they also need training and support on parenting skills that help them foster the learning and development of their young children. That is the real gap that holds our society back from achieving true 21st century growth.
    At United Way for Southeastern Michigan, we are implementing and sustaining neighborhood based hubs (Early Learning Communities) that have experienced and supportive staff with the only goal of recruiting parents and caregivers to commit to and participate in the improvement of their skills when it comes to caring and educating their young children. We have 9 partners operating hubs in 30 different locations throughout Metro Detroit. An area of opportunity is to link with the job training organizations (Ser Metro, Goodwill, Work First, etc.) that are serving the same population. How do we engage parents and caregivers to improve their financial situation but also their role as parents?
    I believe if we do so, we will see an even greater economic return for Michigan.

  2. timbartik says:


    Thank you for your comment.

    I certainly agree that there would be advantages to complementing job training for parents with some parenting skills education. Developing both sets of skills at the same time may have some advantages in greater returns.

    And I applaud your efforts with parenting eduction in Metro Detroit. I would be curious as to what approach to evaluation is being taken for these programs. There is a real need for more rigorous studies of parenting education programs.

  3. As a person who has communication with parents of preschoolers on a daily basis, I don’t believe you are giving parents enough credit and, in fact, find the premise of these posts very insulting. I could go on about this but I will refrain at the risk of sounding rude.

    • timbartik says:


      I don’t see why offering job training to parents who are unemployed and are interested in getting a better job is insulting to the parent. Obviously any such program would be voluntary.

      As I mentioned, I imagine that such a program would primarily be targeted at helping disadvantaged parents in early childhood programs. I know you have advocated for targeted preschool over universal preschool. Targeted preschool programs will include many parents who face significant employment challenges. We already run job training programs for persons who face significant employment challenges, whether due to lack of prior job experience or credentials, a local factory being shut down, or some other cause. All I am suggesting is that we might consider offering such job training programs in conjunction with preschool services. This provides some free child care and peace of mind for the parent. Preschool programs may also be a way to inform some parents of available services.

      Obviously there are many parents, particularly in universal pre-k programs, who do not need such services. That’s fine. No one is being forced into a job training program if they’re not interested.

      I certainly think that some thought should be given to how to organize and administer such programs in a parent-friendly way.

  4. I was not referring to your job training idea. Job training is important to help make people self sufficient. I was referring to Ms. Harri’s comment. “Parents with jobs can still foster the negative growth of children, by the way they talk with, discipline, teach, etc. their children.”

    There is so much rhetoric about parents inability to identify quality programs, raise their kids, etc.. – I find it very insulting to say the least. Parents are quite capable of making decisions for their own children. This is why CHOICE is so important. Who defines how to raise and talk to our kids. Seriously.

    There seems to be a touch of arrogance behind these ideas of taking kids away from family and having “big brother” raise them because they know best.

  5. timbartik says:


    I understand your point a bit better.

    I certainly agree that we have to be very careful about how we approach the tricky issue of parenting. We have to respect that the overwhelming majority of parents want what is best for their children, and have the great advantage of being aware of their child’s nature. And obviously no one has all the answers. A degree of humility is always a help to sound public policy.

    The way that I think about this is that almost all parents feel the need for some advice and support in parenting. I remember devouring many books on parenting while we were awaiting our first child and at various points during my sons’ upbringing. My wife and I asked other parents for advice at different points.

    Some parents may face greater challenges than others. Young first-time single mothers, for example, face a very difficult situation. If they don’t have some good supports in place in their own family, the challenge is even greater.

    I think good parenting programs are certainly not designed to take kids away from their family and have them be raised by the government. They are designed to help parents and strengthen their role.

    I have talked to nurses and young mothers involved with the Nurse Family Partnership program which, among other things, provides these young mothers with some advice on parenting. My sense is that NFP provides help that is welcomed by most of the young mothers it assists, and helps them be better and stronger parents rather than usurping their role. The objective evaluation evidence also suggests that NFP improves outcomes for both these young mothers and their children.

    The wonderful book, “Whatever It Takes”, written by Paul Tough about Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone, also includes some well-drawn portraits of how parenting programs might be able to work in practice.

  6. cindy says:

    I have no problem with parenting programs that are instituted to give support to people who are struggling, seeking help and are truly in need of assistance. As long as the programs are run well, don’t waste and actually improve the lives of those served.

    What I have a problem with is the arrogant tone of many in this field that think they know best and parent are incapable of raising their own children. 🙂

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