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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.
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