“The release of today’s census data shows that 15 percent of Americans are still living in poverty, the second consecutive year of this poverty rate. This stalled progress underscores the need to prioritize investments that create education opportunities for kids starting at birth, help families make ends meet and ultimately grow our economy. Leadership on this issue must come from our lawmakers in Washington, D.C. We simply cannot afford to waste our nation’s human capital year-in and year-out, because a select few aren’t willing to spend political capital on those most in need.

The Census Bureau’s official poverty figures for 2012 show that millions of American families and their children remain steeped in poverty, including:

  • 46.5 million Americans overall
  • 5.8 million children under age 6 (24.4 percent, or nearly 1 in 4)

According to research from Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, investments in early childhood are one of our best economic bets, as they ‘pay dividends for the life of the child.’ Heckman has found that every dollar invested in high-quality early childhood programs for disadvantaged children returns 7-10 percent per child, per year, as children have better outcomes in education, health, economic productivity and reduced crime. Children who attend quality early childhood education programs also do better overall in high school, college and careers, becoming much more likely to be the kind of skilled, educated employees that businesses need, which will further drive economic development and help families gain financial security and mobility.

But many children and families don’t have access to such opportunities, and arrive at kindergarten without the knowledge and skills they need to do their best in school and combat some of the challenges of growing up in poverty. With the nation’s economy still reeling from the recession and poverty impacting thousands of children and families on a daily basis, it is all the more important to make sure early childhood education and child care are more affordable for all families to give children a strong start and continue moving toward economic growth. The reality also is that as income levels remain steady at a median of $51,017, families from all income levels are finding it increasingly difficult to afford high-quality early childhood care.

Congress is currently considering a comprehensive plan that could strengthen early childhood opportunities and the nation’s economy through helping states provide all low- and moderate-income 4-year-olds with voluntary access to high-quality programs, as well as early education and child care for infants and toddlers, home visiting and parental education. The plan would help states provide early childhood education programs to more families without increasing the federal deficit, enabling us to ensure that each child is better prepared for success in school and life.

It’s time for congressional lawmakers from across the political aisle to come together to prioritize smart, targeted investments in children that address both achievement and income gaps and help to grow the economy.”