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21 April 2017

The Error of the Childcare ROI

The Upshot over at the New York Times had an interesting piece the other day, How Child Care Enriches Mothers, and Especially the Sons They Raise. Somewhat unsurprisingly for a blog that takes an economic perspective, "enrich" is taken quite literally:
The program was expensive — $18,514 per student a year — but after calculating effects like the cost to society of unemployment, crime and poor health, the researchers concluded that it returned $7.30 for every dollar spent.
Economists, policy wonks, and other observers seem increasingly inclined to frame social issues in terms of Return on Investment (ROI). There are consequences to this, however. Namely, reporting on the ROI of a given social program implies that only programs that at the very least pay for themselves are worthy of implementation or continuation. If pressed, though, I think most people would agree that some things are worth spending money on--even a lot of money--even if the benefits cannot be measured in dollars and cents. I have no idea what an ROI analysis would say about police or fire departments, but I think it's safe to assume that we would all still want them around even if they aren't revenue neutral in the grand scheme. We must insist that journalists consider social benefits beyond the monetary because social life is about more than just monetary concerns.

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