Preschool as economic development? Researcher shows how and why it makes sense

Last updated February 22, 2022
Rob Grunewald and family
Rob Grunewald, Economist, Minneapolis Fed
When the director of research at the Minneapolis Fed asked him to coauthor a paper on the economic impact of early childhood development, Rob Grunewald agreed to help. The topic fell outside his typical areas of research. The more he investigated, the more Rob’s interest grew. “Research shows that turning our backs on young children costs a lot,” he notes. “If we invest in those resources early, there’s a strong public return.” After publishing the paper, Rob began to receive invitations to speak. He has used those opportunities to reframe perceptions about professions related to early education. He often says, “A teacher who is working in early care and education is doing economic development work.”
“Turning our backs on young children costs a lot. If we invest in those resources early, there’s a strong public return.”

Putting research into practice

Rob coauthored a subsequent paper with a proposal to fund early education scholarships for low-income families with children under five years of age. Minnesota business leaders decided to test the authors’ theory. The pilot effort demonstrated benefits not only for the children, but for their families, too. Today, Minnesota annually funds $70 million worth of these scholarships, which are improving individual outcomes and encouraging providers to offer early education resources in previously underserved communities. Rob loves hearing from the people his work has impacted. “It’s very heartwarming when parents tell me, ‘This program really helped my child.’” Rob’s wife, Gabby, who spent several years working with a nonprofit that supports vulnerable families, has directly observed impacts of the program on families she’s worked with. Today, Rob and Gabby are particularly interested in the development of one child—Sena, their five-month-old daughter. Sena is deepening Rob’s connection to a subject that began as an assignment, then developed into a true passion. It’s one he feels fortunate to be able to share with a growing number of colleagues at the Fed.
Editor’s note: Rob Grunewald left his position with the Minneapolis Fed in February 2022.

Written by

  • Greg Babb

    Greg Babb is a writer for Fed communities and senior business advisor for Federal Reserve IT communications.

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