One of my favorite social scientists, Lane Kenworthy, has a remarkable essay in the latest Foreign Affairs on America’s growing opportunity and income inequality gap. Most notably, Kenworthy finds that addressing these twin problems requires different strategies. For example, while investing in early childhood development may help create more economic opportunity over the long-run it would do little to address income inequality (see economist Tim Bartik’s response) in the short-run.
As I noted last week, there are several actions we could take at the federal and state level to address the Mountain State’s growing income inequality. There are also several things we could be doing to create more economic mobility and opportunity, including investing in early childhood development, higher education, asset building, working on a just transition in coal mining communities, and creating a state Earned Income tax Credit.
Of these different policy choices, investments in early childhood education may be at the top of my list. Over the years, there have been multiple studies documenting the benefits of investments in early childhood education programs (such as Head Start, Child Care Assistance Birth to 3, In-Home Family Education, Pre-K ) and the across the board support in West Virginia makes it very doable. As Tim Bartik highlights in this recent TEDx speech, early childhood programs can help us not only build stronger local economies but can create greater economic opportunity for all over the long-term.
As Kenworthy correctly concludes, there is no silver bullet, but government action must be part of the solution:
In the last half century, the United States has taken long strides toward equalizing economic opportunity. That progress did not happen on its own; it took place with a push from the government. In recent decades, however, the opportunity gap for Americans from different family backgrounds has started to grow. Fortunately, the United States’ experience and that of other affluent nations suggest that the country is not helpless in the face of economic and social changes. There is no silver bullet; a genuine solution is likely to include an array of shifts in policy and society. Even so, a fix is not beyond the United States’ reach.