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Prep School for Poor Kids: The Long-Run Impacts of Head Start on Human Capital and Economic Self-Sufficiency

Journal(s): National Bureau of Economic Research
Published: December 16, 2020
Author(s): Martha J. Bailey, Brenden D. Timpe, Shuqiao Sun

General Description
Children who receive education from Head Start, a federally-funded preschool program for disadvantaged kids that prepares them for success in elementary school, find improved chances of having financial independence in adulthood. Research also shows this greatly decreases the odds that those children require public assistance from federal programs, ultimately generating revenue, rather than costs, for the government.

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Academic Abstract
This paper evaluates the long-run effects of Head Start using large-scale, restricted 2000-2018 Census-ACS data linked to the SSA’s Numident file, which contains exact date and county of birth. Using the county rollout of Head Start between 1965 and 1980 and age-eligibility cutoffs for school entry, we find that Head Start generated large increases in adult human capital and economic self-sufficiency, including a 0.65-year increase in schooling, a 2.7-percent increase in high-school completion, an 8.5-percent increase in college enrollment, and a 39-percent increase in college completion. These estimates imply sizable, long-term returns to public investments in large-scale preschool programs.

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