As the debate about the income and education gap between poor and rich in America continues to rage, we are reminded this morning that the seeds of inequality are sowed not in college or high school, but in the womb.
As husband-and-wife crusaders Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn write in "The Way to Beat Poverty," the lead article in the NYT’s Sunday Review, teaching pregnant mothers not to drink or smoke can help keep their children in school and/or out of jail. Following up with these mothers through nurse visits for two more years teaches them how to nurture their little ones by cuddling, holding, talking and reading, to cope with fussy babies (usually alone, since many low-income moms are single), and to take advantage of birth control.
These may sound like commonsensical measures to those of us lucky enough to have been raised in loving and nurturing households, but pretty alien if you’ve been raised in a stressful home.
What are the results of birth- to two-year-old nurse visits? There are about 80 percent fewer cases of abuse and neglect than among children raised in similar circumstances, half as many arrests, less time on welfare and fewer siblings.
And when that good beginning is followed by quality preschool? According to our fave economist, Nobel Laureate James Heckman at University of Chicago, children who get a solid preschool experience tend to stay married longer, get more education, stay out of jail more, and stay off welfare more. In other words, they tend to have more stable and productive lives.
Kristoff and WuDunn are outraged that a proven anti-poverty program like Nurse-Family Partnership only has funds to serve 2 percent to 3 percent of needy families. Those looking at ways to make America more competitive would do well to look at these kinds of programs that make personal connections and education a priority earliest in life.
At least someone as high-profile as NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is trying his darndest to make universal preschool a reality by opening hundreds of new preschools across the nation’s biggest city (unlike someone else who promised the same but hasn’t delivered, cough, cough, Obama).
Let’s hope it doesn’t take 20 years for people to realize that the NYC push for universal preschool works.