The future of America rests in part on how the country prepares the next generation to live and to lead. Childhood is a consequential and cost-effective time to make investments that last a lifetime. Yet, many children in the United States do not have the resources or relationships they need to build a strong foundation for their future.
Since 2019, scholars at the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution have convened a working group of leading experts to study the challenges and opportunities facing children in America. The members of this working group represent a wide range of academic disciplines, views on the proper roles and effectiveness of government programs, understanding of the current condition of American life, and opinions on how public policy should properly weight competing goods, such as personal responsibility and economic security.
Yet, one area of resounding agreement among this diverse group is the need to rebalance national investments toward children. What follows is a consensus report on our conclusions, laying out actionable policies across a range of policy areas to improve the life of every child in the United States.
The working group was guided by expertise, evidence, and values, and arrived at consensus through constructive dialogue. While there is broad agreement across academic disciplines and the political spectrum on the need to invest in children, there are substantial tensions resting just beneath the surface. The research base for some policies is mixed and reasonable people disagree about how to interpret and act on the evidence. These disagreements, as well as philosophical differences in how to set priorities, generate division. Through work in consensus-building and compromise, and based on both evidence and shared values, the working group has helped to clarify areas that can garner widespread support.
The working group focused its attention on children ages 12 and younger. Across critical domains—household resources, family structure and stability, early development, health, education, and the teenage years—the report presents key facts about the state of childhood in the United States, assembles evidence on policy effectiveness, and establishes a set of priorities for progress.