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August 19, 2018

Are Kids Getting Shortchanged in the Federal Budget?

Children in the United States may not be getting their fair share from the federal government, according to the latest national report by Urban Institute.

The 12th edition of the annual report, called Kids’ Share, is an analysis of federal expenditures on children from 1960 to 2017, and projects them through year 2028.

Kid’s Share reveals that of the more than $3.9 trillion of the complete federal budget, just 9 percent goes toward children.

More than half of the children’s budget goes toward tax provisions and health programs like Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income families.

Early education, pre-school and special education are allocated the least — less than 10 percent — regardless of overwhelming evidence supporting those programs’ long-term benefits.

Housing assistance benefiting children also figured among the least-funded items while access to affordable housing is often cited as a leading indicator of child poverty.

The lack of investment in the nation’s youngest children illustrates a strategy often adopted by administrations hoping to gain more immediate results when laying out federal spending.

“You look at the under-investment in kids and it shows how much more we focus on the immediate than the long-term, and that is a recipe for disaster for your economy and the quality of your country. When you look in the future where the economy is headed, we know we need a well-equipped, healthy, trained, competitive workforce starting at the earliest ages and moving throughout life,” Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and head of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, said in a live panel discussion on the report.

Although the percentage spent on children is already a thin slice of the pie compared to other categories, under current law it’s projected to drop to 6.9 percent over the next decade, while spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest payments on the debt consume a growing share of the budget.
In fact, by 2020, the report finds the federal government is projected to spend more on interest payments on the debt than on children.

Those payments are expected to more than double by 2028.

“Interest is the fastest-growing part of the budget. That means very little room for new spending, and the ongoing promises not to touch Social Security and Medicare bodes for dire outcomes,” MacGuineas said.

Other than federal dollars, state and local government spending on children provides 65 percent of total public spending and is dominated by public education. The federal government contributes just 7 cents of each education dollar.

As for the future of investing in children, MacGuineas is confident in voters.

“I’m hopeful about elections. I don’t think change will happen legislatively. It will happen from the outside.”

Urban Institute is a national nonprofit and leading research organization that provides analysis of social and economic issues.

This story comes from a partnership between the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and the Herald-Tribune, funded by The Patterson Foundation, to cover school readiness, attendance, summer learning, healthy readers and parent engagement. Read more stories at

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