One point made in my recently-published book From Preschool to Prosperity (available free as a pdf, and for $0.99 in various ebook formats, and also in paperback) is that parental earnings benefits are an important economic benefit for many early childhood programs.
For programs such as the Abecedarian program and Educare, which provide high-quality child care and pre-K from birth to age 5 for children from low-income families, the present value of earnings benefits for parents are actually about 50% greater than the earnings benefits for former child participants. The average present value of parental earnings benefits per family are over $190,000. These earnings benefits are in part short-term benefits from free child care enabling parents to work. But the free child care also enables parents to go back to school or obtain job training. The skills developed by the parent’s increased education or training, along with the skills developed by the parent’s increased work experience in the short-run, will help increase parental earnings in the long-term.
For the Nurse Family Partnership program and other home-visiting programs to improve parenting, in the real world an improvement in parenting is often linked to parents being empowered to improve their own lives. The available evidence suggests that this results in increased parent earnings, whose present value is similar to the positive effects of parenting programs on the future earnings of former child participants. The present value of increased maternal earnings per assisted first-time mother is over $15,000.
Parental earnings benefits are less important for programs providing only one year of preschool. This simply doesn’t provide enough free child care to significantly affect parental earnings. However, as my book details, one year of preschool is a very cost-effective way of increasing the future adult earnings of former child participants.
While early childhood programs should remain focused on the important goal of providing quality services that enhance the life prospects of the child, programs should not neglect a possible dual purpose of helping parents. From a standpoint of social benefits and costs, for many programs the benefits for parents can more than double the benefit-cost ratio.