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Economic Security

Economic Security

Making the Case for Prenatal to Three Policies

Every child deserves a strong start in life. The foundation we provide for them shapes their future and the future of our communities. We have to get it right.

During the first three years of life, the brains and bodies of infants and toddlers make huge gains in development. Babies’ brains develop faster from birth to age three than at any later point in life. Their early experiences—both positive and negative—build the foundation for brain and body architecture that will support their ability to learn and their overall social, emotional, and physical health.

We can ensure that families have the resources to provide safe housing, nutritious foods, adequate clothing and diapers, and regular access to medical care so their young children have the stability they need during this critical time of rapid growth and development.

We must act now to ensure that each infant grows into socially, emotionally, and physically healthy children who are confident, empathetic, and ready for school and life.

The Need for Policies that Support Families’ Economic Security

Families with young children face unique economic burdens. Parents of infants and toddlers have lower household incomes than their peers without children or those whose children are 5 years or older. They are earning the least at a time when their caregiving responsibilities—and related costs— are the most demanding. For example, the cost of child care for families with infants is approximately 21% of the U.S. median income for a family of three, but it also comes at a time when families can least afford it.

More than 80% of children in families with low-incomes live in a household where at least one person is employed. This work is often in low-wage jobs that will not support a family and lack employer- sponsored benefits such as health insurance and paid time off.

Nearly one in five infants and toddlers live in families experiencing poverty. Due to longstanding inequities in public policy, we see higher percentages of babies experiencing poverty among American Indian/Native and Black infants and toddlers, at nearly double the national average.

Poverty experienced in the earliest years of children’s lives literally gets under the skin, undermining strong brain development as well as other physiological systems. Research shows poverty and income are related to smaller brain growth in key areas associated with self-regulation, learning, memory, language, and emotional control.

The negative impacts of early childhood poverty can persist well into adulthood, impacting educational attainment, later earnings, adult health, and reliance on public benefits.

The Opportunity to Improve Families’ Economic Security

We put our nation’s present and future at risk when high poverty rates and low incomes persist for families with infants and toddlers, who are the most vulnerable to its impacts.

Targeted interventions during the first three years can mitigate or even eliminate negative outcomes and change the course for young children. These interventions should ensure that families with young children have a safe place to live, enough food to eat, and a stable income.

Today’s children represent our nation’s most racially and ethnically diverse generation. One-half of babies in the US are children of color. We have an opportunity to ensure that policies, programs, and services meet the needs of our community’s increasingly diverse families.

When families with young children have equitable access to opportunities that help them build economic security, it not only lifts the whole economy, but guarantees stronger, healthier, and more resilient communities for generations to come.

Calls to Action

  • Infants and toddlers must be our highest priority. We need to ensure equitable opportunities for their family’s economic security because they only get one chance at a strong start.
  • Ensuring families have adequate income is basic to creating an environment in which young children thrive. Families need a range of equitable policies that ensure they can support their young children and access safe and stable housing, health and mental health care, healthy food, and high-quality early care and education for their young children.