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  The Herman Trend Alert

March 9, 2011

The Toll for Failing to Invest in Young Children

When society fails to invest in its young children, the expenses are high and far-reaching. In fact the costs are staggering, especially when compared to the investments to avoid these consequences.

A new analysis by an economist and two criminologists for the Pew Center for the States reports the little-known huge price tag. They estimate the social costs caused by an array of bad outcomes including child abuse and neglect, high school dropouts, criminal activity, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, and other health problems.

Investments in evidence-based early childhood programs could significantly diminish these expensive social ills. States face the choice of paying now or paying later every day, when they make decisions about investing in new generations. These young people are tomorrow’s students, parents, employees, and citizens. Research has demonstrated that supporting healthy early childhood development—from before birth through age five—produces substantial educational, social and financial benefits for children and their communities.

The costs are staggering:

Societal costs for medical and mental healthcare and services, like foster care, total more than $30,000 for an abused child. When a teenager has a child, the nation pays $120,000 for expenses including medical care, social assistance programs, and efforts to deal with higher rates of abuse and neglect among these young parents. High School dropouts each cost society $250,000, through lower earnings and benefits. Treatment, medical care and other societal costs caused by a drug abuser amount to $250,000. Societal costs for an alcoholic, such as medical problems, car crashes and lost productivity at work, add up to $230,000.

The purpose of this study was to help policy makers and the public fully evaluate the consequences of funding decisions. It also looks at resources the US could redirect to more cost-effective policies in the future as proven preventive measures reduce crime, school failure and health problems.

We applaud the important work of The Pew Center on the States, a division of The Pew Charitable Trusts that identifies and advances effective solutions to critical issues facing states. Expect more research to focus on these kinds of critical social issues. For more information, visit www.pewcenteronthestates.org.


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