Timothy J. Bartik
W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research
Early Childhood Investment Corporation, Diversity Specialist
Where's the interest in children?
In the week since the release of the national Kids Count report - a report that had Michigan dropping three spots in state rankings, from 27th to 30th, in child well-being - there has been precious little outcry about how dire the numbers are and what they say for the future of the state if we don't act.
I've been googling for the past 10 minutes and while I see scattered news accounts of the Kids Count findings, I haven't seen much in the way of commentary on the part of the state's newspapers, columnists, bloggers and so on. So I ask, "Where's the outrage?"
Are writers and bloggers suffering from "bad statistics about Michigan" fatigue? That's possible. As a former and current media member, the churn of bad statistics on Michigan - welfare, obesity, unemployment, crime and so - never ceases or slows, and yes you do have a tendency to tune out. You figure "been there, written about that."
But this particular statistical report deserves more attention. For too long, Michigan and other states have paid lip service to the importance of children. We say we care, we say they deserve the best, but too often our deeds don't match our words.
It's all in the statistics. According to Kids Count, Michigan parents don't get enough prenatal care (low birth-weight babies up 4 percent; ), children too often live in poverty (up 36 percent).
In addition, working in early childhood as I do, you quickly come to realize that not enough children are getting quality child care, preschool, physical and emotional supports and so on.
The question is "why," given our professed interest in the welfare of children?
That I can't answer. But I do know this: The research on early childhood is ridiculously clear. It works.
As Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago economics Professor James Heckman puts it, fixing what ails us as a nation (and I'll add, as a state) is as easy as following what he calls the Heckman Equation, which goes like this:
Public investment in disadvantaged families to provide equal access to early human development plus development of cognitive and social skills in children 0-5 plus ongoing quality education as children grow equals a more capable, productive and valuable workforce that pays dividends to America for generations to come.
May Michigan be wise enough to follow that path.