The (false) promise for jobs

FROM an op-ed titled A promise to grow jobs, shrink government that no Maine politician is making, authored by Allison Mitchell and published in this morning’s BDN:

In just a month, America votes. Here in Maine, I’ll be looking for candidates smart and bold enough to call for investment in Maine’s future. As a parent, a college instructor and researcher interested in what works — and what does not — when it comes to building healthy communities, here are the 16 words I would love to hear a politician say this year:

“I will fund high-quality early childhood education for every Maine child aged 2 to 4.”

Here is why: Early childhood education is a wise investment that is well worth every penny.

Among the benefits of pre-K education, Ms. Mitchell notes several benefits for children who attend Headstart, including lower crime rates, better personal health, and so forth.  But what about this promise of jobs?

The benefits of funding early childhood development programs are not limited to the youngsters themselves. We all gain from stronger economic growth, a better-educated workforce and reduced need for costly government services.

The link between educational attainment and income level is well documented.

First, as to education and income levels, it is well documented, but poorly presented.  Often, proponents of pre-K programs note that college degree holders earn more than their non-college degree holder counterparts.  What they fail to mention is that wages across education levels have stagnated, that the driver of the college wage premium has more to do with graduate degrees than bachelor degrees, and that college degree holder underemployment is on the rise.  Second, there is little evidence of a causal effect between simply increasing educational attainment in the workforce and economic growth.

Does this mean pre-K investments or education investments in general are bad?  No, but the presentation that such investments alone are the panacea for the state’s economy are flawed because it looks at just one side of the employment equation.  Proponents of pre-K programs and increasing college degree holders such as Tim Bartik and Anthony Carnevale note that looking at the supply side of that equation (boosting educational attainment of the workforce) is flawed.

From a recent blog piece by Bartik (my emphasis):

As both my book and the article argue, pre-K and other early childhood education investments can be even more effective as part of more comprehensive strategies. Early childhood education investments are not the only investments in skills that can work. And policies to invest in skills should be accompanied by policies to create more demand for high-skill, high-wage jobs.

And from Carnevale (my emphasis):

[W]hat’s too bad about this is where the federal government fails the most is it doesn’t have a jobs policy. In truth, in the end, this is the jobs policy and it’s a very weak and slender reed because education and training doesn’t create jobs except people who are employed in in education and training … the great failure here is on the employment policy side and there’s a vacuum there in my judgement. … If we could stimulate demand a lot of this would work a lot better. …

Regarding Maine, there is nothing to suggest that the demand side of the employment equation is fine.  In other words, there is no indication of either a labor or skills shortage, and simply investing in pre-K will not boost the state’s economy or grow jobs.

John Haskell

About John Haskell

John graduated from the University of Southern Maine with a degree in Political Science, and from the University of Maine School of Law. He has worked in both the public and private sectors, and currently, works with a small business services company in the Mid-Coast area.