Strong foundations: the economic futures of kids and communities


April 14, 2017

“Our young people are the future, and we all want them to have the support they need for successful and fulfilling lives. As a central banker, I recognize the benefits to the broader economy when more people are better prepared for work and for managing their finances. In short, ensuring that all of our kids have ‘strong foundations’ will help build a similarly strong foundation for the U.S. economy.” – Janet Yellen, Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

Last month, I attended a conference convened by the Federal Reserve System titled, “Strong Foundations: The Economic Futures of Kids and Communities.” Over the course of two days, academics, public servants, policy wonks, and on-the-ground advocates presented research and debated policies related to developmental and environmental factors that influence children and communities. Why would the Fed, an institution that most of us only think about only in terms of interest rates and monetary policy, care about things such as a child’s education or the environment he or she grows up in? The above quote by Federal Reserve Chair Yellen, taken from her opening remarks at the conference, says it all – when kids have strong foundations for success, our economy as a whole will be more successful.

Several speakers throughout the conference noted that the Federal Reserve has two goals as it relates to monetary policy: stable prices and maximum sustainable employment. The Fed believes that community development and these conferences (the conference last month was the 10th such conference they have convened) support the goal of maximum sustainable employment. The better kids are prepared to get and keep good jobs, they closer the economy gets to this goal. In fact, as Chair Yellen pointed out, “The conference is cosponsored by, and includes substantive contributions from, the community development offices of all 12 Federal Reserve Banks as well as the Board of Governors. That united effort and level of commitment reflects how consequential we consider these issues to be.”

Throughout the three different tracks of the conference – early childhood development, community conditions, and education and workforce development – several reoccurring themes appeared:

    • Early childhood experiences (neighborhood environment, parents’ income, school quality and other factors) have a huge impact on the development of kids and their health and success later in life. Investing in early childhood development is one of the best possible investments we can make, and attention to childhood development should begin very early on with things like prenatal care, home visiting programs, and cash supports for parents such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and child care subsidies.

    • Early childhood education is not an inoculation. Kids need positive “booster shots” along the way – especially in adolescence, which is a critical time for development and growth.
    • Policies need to improve opportunities for ALL low-income children and be racially and ethnically conscious.
    • We need to both support and build the capabilities of adults who care for kids, and strengthen communities to support families raising kids under difficult circumstances.

A plethora of resources that were presented throughout the two-day event can be helpful to advocates in a number of different fields:

    • All of the papers and presentations from this year’s conference can be found here. A few of the highlights include papers showing the positive impact of housing vouchers on school performance (see one slide from the presentation below), the negative effect of distressed housing on kindergarten readiness, the positive effect of the EITC on lowering childhood obesity, and the relationship between higher education and racial and ethnic wealth gaps (spoiler alert: while increased education is related to increased wealth for all races and ethnicities, a college degree does not eliminate racial and ethnic wealth gaps).

    •, a product of Brandeis’ Heller School for Social Policy and Management, allows you to “explore hundreds of measures of child wellbeing and policy analysis from a unique information source that documents diversity, opportunity and equity among US children.”

More resources, including videos of the keynote and plenary speakers and downloadable versions of the infographics produced by the Fed used in this piece, are expected to be added to the conference website soon, so check back for these.

According to a sneak preview from Dr. Yellen, the Federal Reserve Board’s latest Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED), which will be published in May, shows the strong connection between the experiences of poverty in childhood and economic challenges later as an adult. Also in May, we expect to see a more detailed version of President Trump’s FY18 budget proposal, the “skinny” version of which eliminates Community Development Block Grants, Community Services Block Grants, afterschool programs and others, and slashes education, rental assistance, the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program and so many more programs that fight childhood poverty. While it’s unlikely that President Trump will use the resources mentioned above from the Fed, the multitude of researchers and others to change course and invest in early childhood development, community development and workforce development rather than gut them, we as advocates can use these resources to push back against the cuts. We’ll continue updating our FY18 budget resource page with other useful resources, too, to empower you in the fight ahead. The success of our children – and of our economy – depends on it.

child care
child poverty
early childhood
Early Childhood Education
Earned Income Tax Credit
Education and Youth Policy
Income Support
Poverty and Income
strong foundation