Economic Snapshot | Education

Why Universal Pre-K Makes Economic Sense—for Kids, and the Country

In his new book, From Preschool to Prosperity, Upjohn Institute Senior Economist Timothy Bartik makes a powerful case for the benefits of universal, versus targeted, pre-K. As decades of research affirm, all children benefit from stimulating early care and education provided by a credentialed, properly supported teacher, a small classroom, and an enriching, age-appropriate curriculum. But while high-income parents can provide or fund such experiences, middle-income parents, like their lower-income counterparts, cannot because at $10,000 per year or more, pre-K represents too hefty a proportion of their income. The figure below shows that quality pre-K programs deliver substantial earnings gains for middle-income participants, almost as large as those estimated for their lower-income peers.

Economic Snapshot

Lifetime earnings gains from quality pre-k programs are almost as large for middle-income kids as low-income peers: Estimated lifetime-earnings gains from attending pre-k, by family income level

Lifetime earnings gains from quality pre-k programs
Middle-income $48000
Low-income $53000
ChartData Download data

The data below can be saved or copied directly into Excel.

Note: Earnings gains are the difference between the present value of total career earnings with and without pre-K. Values rounded to the nearest thousand, in 2012 dollars. For details explaining these calculations, see Bartik (2014).

Source: Table 5.1, page 47, Bartik, Timothy J. (2014). From Preschool to Prosperity: The Economic Payoff to Early Childhood Education. Kalamazoo, Michigan: W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

Copy the code below to embed this chart on your website.

On multiple grounds, Bartik’s book reinforces the president’s and Department of Education’s call for expanded access to pre-K. Universal pre-K programs help many more children; they also have a positive net return and have multiple social benefits. These benefits are too huge to pass up.

See related work on Education | Educational inequity

See more work by Emma García and Elaine Weiss