The United States today lacks an economy that gives everyone a fair shot to succeed, to develop and contribute to their potential, and to participate fully in society. Economic inequality in the U.S. has risen sharply over the last 35 years, reaching possibly the highest levels in the country’s history and the highest among nations with well-developed economies. This rise in inequality has coincided with very limited levels of social mobility. During this time the United States has seen stalled growth rates in educational attainment levels, labor productivity, and economic growth; having once been well ahead of other nations on these measures, the U.S. has now fallen behind other advanced economies. So the economic pie itself has been growing much more slowly at the same time as the division of the pie has become more inequitable and the possibility of changing one’s portion more unlikely.

This policy brief, part of the Next American Economy Learning Series, makes the case for why early investments in the development of human potential and skills development hold extraordinary potential for the United States’ economic progress in the coming decades. There is strong evidence that high-quality early care and education can help to meet the nation’s labor market needs and reverse growing educational and economic inequality. As such, I argue that universal public education should begin at age three.