The Workforce Investment with the Highest Return?

It just might be early childhood intervention:

A new paper by James Heckman of the University of Chicago marshalls some pretty persuasive evidence on how to improve the quality of the US workforce:  provide a lot of support to mothers and infants.  His work shows that, by age 3, achievement gaps start to emerge among children from different socio-economic situations.  Once those gaps emerge, they persist throughout the life span.  For example, Heckman’s analysis suggests that by age 3, children with college-educated mothers test much better than children of mothers with only a high school diploma.  Thus, if you are going to address this disparity, it has to happen before age three.

Here is Heckman’s conclusion:

A strategy that places greater emphasis on parenting resources directed to the early years is a strategy that prevents rather than remediates problems. It supplements families and makes them active participants in the process of child development.

Remediation strategies as currently implemented are much less effective. This is the flip side of the argument for early intervention. Many skills that are malleable in the early years are much less so in the teenage years. As a consequence, remediating academic and social deficits in the teenage years is much more costly….For high quality early childhood interventions, there are none of the trade-offs between equity and efficiency that plague most public policies. Early interventions produce broadly based benefits and reduce social and economic inequality. At the same time they promote productivity and economic efficiency. They are both fair and efficient.

This suggests that any business or organization that is really serious about improving workforce quality in the US should be advocating for programs providing early support (even pre-natal support) for mothers and infants.  You can download a copy of Heckman’s paper here.

Via Kevin Drum.

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