an urban institute publication
Posted to Web: June 24, 2008
Permanent Link: http://www.urban.org/url.cfm?ID=411699
The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.
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Kids' Share 2008, a second annual report, looks comprehensively at trends in federal spending and tax expenditures on children. Key findings suggest that historically children have not been a budget priority. In 2007, this trend continued, as children's spending did not keep pace with GDP growth. Absent a policy change, children's spending will continue to be squeezed in the next decade.
As children are the country’s future workers, parents, and citizens, the federal government has directed resources to ensure their well-being and to help them develop their potential. So, as a nation, we devote federal resources to publicly educate kids, ensure their basic needs, develop their potential, and help protect their families from financial hardship. These resources are the “kids’ share” of our federal budget, allotted through direct spending on programs or through tax breaks. By tracking the changes in the children’s budget, we can take stock of our national priorities. We tracked federal spending on children from 1960 through 2018 based on actual budget outlays and projections of spending under current policies. We charted the relative changes—and therefore, the shifting national emphases—between children’s spending and spending on other priorities. We also examined changes in spending among different types of children’s programs. This report is the most comprehensive examination to date of trends in federal spending on kids.
In 2007, total federal spending was $2.7 trillion (20.0 percent of gross domestic product, or GDP)—and significantly more, if all tax programs are considered. The federal government disbursed some $354 billion, or 2.6 percent of GDP, through a combination of direct outlays and tax credits and exemptions on programs benefiting children. In comparison, $614 billion (4.5 percent of GDP) was spent on defense, non-defense homeland security, and international affairs; $1,076 billion (7.9 percent) paid for non-child Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; and $237 billion (1.7 percent) went to pay interest on the national debt. This report updates last year’s report, Kids’ Share 2007, adding in actual (rather than projected) budget numbers for 2007 and projections of spending within the children’s budget against other federal spending through 2018.3 We added several new children’s programs for which we have tracked budget data and we also improved our estimates of children’s spending in some programs included last year. These updates change the absolute amounts relative to what we reported last year but not the storyline. Future installments in this series may make similar improvements. We therefore emphasize that readers focus on the relative shares—the children’s share placed in context with the shares given to other national priorities and how these shares vary over time—rather than absolute spending or GDP numbers provided for a given year.
It is important to note that we do not assess the success, efficiency, or merit of any particular type of spending.4 Nor does the level of financing of children’s programs relative to GDP or other programs demonstrate how much help is needed. Yet, the modest share of domestic spending dedicated to children—a share scheduled for decline under current law—is an important gauge of the federal government’s national priorities.
(End of excerpt. The entire report is available in PDF format.)