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Family Talk: Early childhood learning is an investment

Early childhood learning is an investment that could make a difference in children's success. [THINKSTOCK PHOTO]

Early childhood learning is an investment that could make a difference in children's success. [THINKSTOCK PHOTO]

Warren Buffett is known as “the Oracle of Omaha,” because he has an uncanny knack for knowing what companies to invest in and how to make a profit. He is now worth more than $85 billion (with a “B”), according to Forbes.

But he doesn't think money equals success. Buffett says, “I measure success by how many people love me. And the best way to be loved is to be lovable.” I like that measurement of success.

When Buffett holds court with the investors in his company, as he recently did in Omaha, people pay attention. I did. Here's what he said:

"I would love being a baby born in the U.S. today."

The idea that Buffett said he loved the idea of being a baby born in the United States got my attention. "Really?" I wondered. I think he might want to qualify his statement a bit and say, “I would love being a baby being born in certain ZIP codes in the U.S. today.” Because, unfortunately, ZIP codes make a difference in the outcome of a baby's life.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has this to say:

For the first time in our history, the United States is raising a generation of children who may live sicker and shorter lives than their parents. Reversing this trend will of course depend on healthy decisions by each of us. But not everyone in America has the same opportunities to make healthy choices ... researchers have increasingly insisted that our ZIP codes tell a far more informative story. ... Publicly available vital statistics show tragic disparities across ZIP codes in U.S. cities and counties. For instance, in New Orleans, the average life expectancy for babies born to mothers in different neighborhoods can vary by as much as 25 years.

I admire Warren Buffett. It appears he raised his own children modestly and with good values. He is optimistic about the future of America and American children, recently writing in a Time magazine essay that American children will have a better standard of living than their parents. But he qualifies his optimism by saying his forecast will turn on whether we close the gap between rich and poor.

And just how do we do that? By wisely investing in babies. By investing in early childhood learning for kids in poverty, ages birth to 5, so they are “school ready” and life ready.

Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman concludes that investing in early childhood education returns a 13 percent return on investment for comprehensive, high quality birth-to-5 early education. That beats the stock market. Heckman concludes comprehensive, quality early learning results in better outcomes for both males and females. Kids in poverty who are engaged in early childhood learning stay in school longer, have higher graduation rates, achieve higher income levels and stay out of jail.

Early childhood learning is the kind of investment Warren Buffett can get behind. And we should, too. For the sake of our children. For the sake of our families.

For more information about early childhood learning, check out http://sunbeamfamilyservices.org/explore-our-programs/early-childhood-services/

Jim Priest is CEO of Sunbeam Family Services and can be reached at jpriest@sunbeamfamilyservices.org.

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