West Coast Economic Forum on Early Childhood Investment


The West Coast Economic Forum on Early Childhood Investment convened business, finance, policy and advocacy leaders to consider strategies for developing an effective 21st-century work force — by investing in the nation's youngest children.

The Forum was jointly sponsored by the Milken Institute and the Partnership for America's Economic Success. PAES is a consortium of representatives from the business, policy and philanthropy communities committed to assessing the economic impact of investments in children from before birth to age 5. Its goal is to make the successful development of children the nation's top economic priority. PAES is managed and partially funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The day included a panel of researchers, who presented new studies on the economic benefit of investing in early childhood; a panel of business leaders, who discussed the benefits and challenges of business engagement in this policy area; a keynote address by Milken Institute Chairman Michael Milken; a policy-maker discussion with the lieutenant governor of Colorado, Barbara O'Brien; and a facilitated audience discussion on ways to move forward.

The day's first panel, "New Data on the Economic Benefits of Investments in Children," featured four researchers, who presented new evidence on the economic impacts of early childhood investment. Moderated by Sara Watson, Senior Officer at The Pew Charitable Trusts and Director of PAES, the panel consisted of Professor Greg Duncan of Northwestern University, Professor Timothy Bartik of the Upjohn Institute, Professor William Dickens of the University of Maryland and Professor Bernard Guyer of Johns Hopkins University.

Duncan addressed the economic benefits of raising family income during the earliest years. He found that raising poor families' incomes to or above the poverty line has substantial economic benefits for both the family and society, including increasing children's future earnings as adults and reducing their dependence on welfare and food stamps.

Bartik explained how early childhood programs contribute to job growth and economic development, even more so than business subsidies, a mechanism traditionally used for state economic development. High-quality early childhood programs increase jobs to a greater degree than business subsidies over the long-term, he said, and from a national perspective, they provide earnings effects at least three times greater than business subsidies.

Dickens also addressed the value of implementing a high-quality early childhood program nationwide and projected that if the studied program were implemented at full scale, it would increase the stock of physical and human capital, GDP and revenues at all levels of government to a greater degree than having no program at all. Specifically, he projected that 75 years after its implementation, savings and increased revenue from the program would exceed its costs by $88 billion.

Finally, Guyer described his findings based on a review of studies on early childhood health problems (such as exposure to tobacco smoke, unintentional injury, mental health problems and obesity). His results showed that because not treating these conditions has a large adverse effect on society, investing in early childhood health is clearly cost-effective.

Next, Barry Munitz, Chair of California's P-16 Council, gave an overview of the council's recommendations to date. These include expanded access to high-quality pre-K programs statewide, especially to students from low-income communities, students of color, English learners and other underrepresented students. He reasserted the value of starting early to closing the achievement gap.

Milken Institute chairman Mike Milken encourages heavy investment in education and health to boost human capital.

The keynote speaker, Mike Milken, made a powerful case for investing in human capital. The global economy has dramatically changed, he said, with developing countries growing faster in recent years than industrialized nations. To keep up in an ever more competitive environment, countries must invest heavily in education and health to boost human capital. As an example, Milken compared Singapore and Jamaica in 1960 and again in 2007. In 1960 the countries had the same per capita GDP; in 2007, Singapore, which invested much more in its human capital in the intervening years, had a per capita GDP nine times greater than Jamaica's. Today, the U.S. is falling behind in this measure. For instance, while the US spends $3,900 per child on early childhood education, China, which is projected to be the world's largest economy by 2050, spends $6,000-$10,000.

Following the keynote address, Betsy Zeidman, Research Fellow and Director of the Center for Emerging Domestic Markets at the Institute, moderated a business panel, "Business Leadership to Advance Investments in Children as an Economic Strategy." The panel included Richard Atlas, Founder and CEO of The Atlas Family Foundation and former General Partner at Goldman Sachs and Co.; Dave Curry, President of Kiwanis International; Lenny Mendonca, Chairman of McKinsey Global Institute; and Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council.

The business leaders discussed the role of business in advancing early childhood policies. Mendonca likened this policy debate to climate change. Several years ago, few business leaders espoused climate change as a policy in which businesses should involve themselves. Nowadays, businesses are clamoring to be "green." Wunderman described a study the Bay Area Council is sponsoring on local early childhood investment. The study is important, he explained, not only as a way to collect more evidence, but as a means to communicate the problem and the need to the business community.

During lunch, Ted Lempert, President of Children Now, engaged Barbara O'Brien, Colorado's Lieutenant Governor, in a discussion of the value of investing in children from the state perspective. A leading policy-maker in the area of early childhood, O'Brien spoke of one of Colorado's successes, Smart Start Colorado, which was launched in 2005 as an integrated system of early childhood supports and services for children birth to age 8 and their families. She also cited various challenges facing early childhood investment in a policy environment.

Finally, Robert Dugger, Managing Director at Tudor Investment Corporation and Advisory Board Chair of the Partnership for America's Economic Success, facilitated a discussion on the Telluride Principles, which were created to provide business, nonprofit and government leaders a common set of priorities within which to hold effective discussions. Through an interactive discussion, audience members discussed ways they believed the information presented during the day could be used to move children's investments forward.