Clive Belfield has a useful paper, recently posted at the National Institute for Early Education Research website, on trends in usage and spending for early childhood care and education. The paper combines data from three National Household Education surveys, from 1995, 2001, and 2005.
The entire paper is well-worth reading for a variety of revelations about these trends. In this brief blog post, I want to point to three findings from this report that seemed to me particularly noteworthy.
First, the data clearly show the effects of the expansion of state pre-k programs. From 1995 to 2005, the proportion of four-year olds in public early care and education programs, or in private programs with no fees, doubled from 9% of all four-year-olds to 18% of all four-year-olds (Table 2).
Second, despite this expansion of free or low-cost programs for four year olds, average family spending for four-year-old care and education still increased over this decade, by 13% in real terms (adjusted for inflation) averaged over all families, both those spending money and those not spending money on early childhood care and education (Table 4). But this increase in family spending on early childhood care and education for four-year-olds is less than the increase in family spending on early care and education for younger children. The percentage increase in real spending for early care and education was 16% for three-year-olds, 29% for two-year-olds, and 18% for children less than two years old.
Professor Belfield’s conclusion, with which I concur, is that an increase in families’ demands for early childhood care and education for four-year olds was only partially offset by the expansion of publicly subsidized programs for four-year olds.
Third, Professor Belfield’s analysis of early care and education usage for all families with children less than five shows a continued trend for usage to still be considerably higher for upper-income families. His analysis is based on income quintiles, in which all families are ranked by family income, and then we divide all families into fifths, or “income quintiles”, by this ranking on family income. Controlling for other family characteristics, families in the highest income quintile in 2005 use early care and education by about 5 hours more per week than is true for families in the lowest-income quintile (Table 3). Families in the second highest income quintile also use early care and education services significantly more than families in the lowest income quintile. The data suggest that the lowest usage of early care and education is among families in the middle-income quintile and second-lowest income quintile. However, usage among families in all three of the lowest income quintiles is quite similar and is not statistically significantly different.
These patterns suggest that given that high-quality early care and education can provide significant benefits, our task is to both expand access to high-quality early childhood care and education for the lowest-income families, while also expanding access for working-class and middle-income families. All three of these income groups, from the poor to the middle class, show a gap compared to upper-income families.