Better Life Chances for Children

Research suggests that the conditions children are raised in affect their development in a number of areas. The Low-Income Working Families Initiative examines the conditions that can affect children’s development and interventions to help them cope with trauma, instability, and life in poverty, as well as methods to prevent such occurrences.  Work in this area spans research on life chances of youth who drop out to work, to state spending on children and the demographics of children of immigrants.

 

Public spending on children by federal, state, and local governments is an investment in the nation’s future because it supports children’s healthy development, helping them fulfill their potential.

To help interested stakeholders assess the government’s investment in children, this 11th edition of the annual Kids’ Share report provides an updated analysis of federal expenditures on children from 1960 through 2016. It also projects federal expenditures on children through 2027 to give a sense of how budget priorities may unfold absent changes to current law.

Highlights include the following:

  • In 2016, 10 percent of the federal budget (or $377 billion of $3.9 trillion in outlays) was spent on children.
  • An additional $108 billion in tax reductions was targeted to families with children. Combining outlays and tax reductions, federal expenditures on children totaled $486 billion.
  • Half of all federal expenditures on children comes from four spending and tax programs: Medicaid, the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit, and the dependent exemption.
  • The share of federal expenditures for children targeted to low-income families has increased over time, reaching 65 percent in 2016.
  • Children’s programs are projected to receive just one cent of every dollar of the projected $1.5 trillion increase in federal spending over the next decade.
  • Under current law, the children’s share of the budget is projected to drop from 9.8 to 7.5 percent over the next decade, as spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest payments on the debt consumes a growing share of the budget.
  • By 2020, the federal government will spend more on interest payments on the debt than on children.
  • Over the next decade, every major category of spending on children (e.g., health, education, and income security) is projected to decline relative to GDP.

Increased understanding of how childhood circumstances affect lifelong outcomes has led to more public support for investment in children. Even so, spending on children is not always prioritized relative to other categories of the federal budget, which is why the Kids’ Share report tracks government spending on children each year.

This annual accounting of spending on children is important as Congress considers legislation introducing or amending individual children’s programs or tax provisions, sets funding levels in annual appropriation bills, and debates broad tax and budgetary reform packages that may shift the level and composition of public resources invested in children.

Kids' Share 2017: Report on Federal Expenditures on Children through 2016 and Future Projections

Boys and young men of color are at risk for poor health and developmental outcomes from birth through young adulthood. Many risks flow from a lack of economic resources and residence in segregated neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage. This paper outlines these developmental challenges and identifies societal, institutional, and community changes that would increase resources, eliminate or reduce stress and trauma, and provide support for boys and families. It also identifies some knowledge gaps that must be filled in order to increase the effectiveness of programs directed toward this population.

Promoting Healthy Families and Communities for Boys and Young Men of Color

Boys and young men of color are overrepresented in all aspects of the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems, at considerable cost to those involved, their families, and their communities. This overrepresentation is most acute for African Americans, although other communities of color are also affected. This paper reviews systemic, institutional, and community policies and practices that greatly impact the life chances of boys and young men of color. Policy and practice changes that would reduce criminal justice engagement and that would reduce the harms caused to communities of color from criminal justice engagement are identified and suggestions are made for developing more evidence of effectiveness for initiatives in this area.

Reducing Harms to Boys and Young Men of Color from Criminal Justice System Involvement

The environments in which children grow up profoundly shape their socio-emotional health and development and set the stage for future success. This essay provides a framework for understanding how various settings influence lives of boys and young men of color. Failure to take these environments into account treats the problems experienced by this group as entirely of their own making and ignores the role that external forces play in contributing to poor outcomes. This essay provides a context for future research and analysis, in hopes that it will examine the lives and circumstances of boys and young men of color using more complex and nuanced perspectives.

Understanding the Environmental Contexts of Boys and Young Men of Color

Knowing the economic challenges young fathers without postsecondary education face in providing for their families, New York City’s Young Men’s Initiative launched a fatherhood program housed in LaGuardia Community College in spring 2012. The CUNY Fatherhood Academy (CFA) aims to connect young fathers to academic and employment opportunities while supporting them through parenting classes and workshops. This executive summary provides highlights from Urban Institute’s qualitative evaluation of the program. The evaluation, completed under contract with the New York City Center for Economic Opportunity, focuses on CFA’s design, implementation, and participant outcomes in the four cohorts served between March 2012 and December 2013.

The CUNY Fatherhood Academy: A Qualitative Evaluation

Knowing the economic challenges young fathers without postsecondary education face in providing for their families, New York City’s Young Men’s Initiative launched a fatherhood program housed in LaGuardia Community College in spring 2012. The CUNY Fatherhood Academy (CFA) aims to connect young fathers to academic and employment opportunities while supporting them through parenting classes and workshops. This report summarizes Urban Institute’s qualitative evaluation of the program. The evaluation, completed under contract with the New York City Center for Economic Opportunity, focuses on CFA’s design, implementation, and participant outcomes in the four cohorts served between March 2012 and December 2013.

The CUNY Fatherhood Academy

Graduating from high school is vital to young people’s life chances. Much of the current policy conversation around helping youth stay the course focuses on disconnected youth who are not in school or employed, but there is another group: youth who drop out and work. This brief uses data from the American Community Survey on 16- to 18-year-old youth to describe trends in early employment. The analyses show that young workers contribute substantially to their households, raising important questions about the economic role of youth and future approaches to dropout prevention.

Read a blog post and watch a video on this issue.

Dropping Out and Clocking In

We know little about how early work experience influences adult outcomes for high school dropouts. This brief reports on how these early workers fare compared with youth who drop out but don’t go to work and youth who complete high school. Although early workers are twice as likely to be employed at age 25 as youth who drop out without working, dropouts who were employed at age 25 work roughly the same number of hours and have similar average earnings regardless of whether they worked as teenagers. Both groups fare worse than youth who complete high school.

Dropping Out, Clocking In, and Falling Behind: What Happens to Youth Who Work and Drop Out?

We know little about how early work experience influences adult outcomes for high school dropouts. This brief reports on how these early workers fare compared with youth who drop out but don’t go to work and youth who complete high school. Although early workers are twice as likely to be employed at age 25 as youth who drop out without working, dropouts who were employed at age 25 work roughly the same number of hours and have similar average earnings regardless of whether they worked as teenagers. Both groups fare worse than youth who complete high school.

Dropping Out, Clocking In, and Falling Behind: What Happens to Youth Who Work and Drop Out? Appendix Tables

From 2006 to 2014, the number of children ages 0 to 17 with at least one immigrant parent grew by 2 million children, from 15.7 to 17.7 million. They account for nearly one-quarter of all children in the United States. This brief highlights national, state and metro level information, using data from the 2013 and 2014 American Community Surveys.

Demographic Trends of Children of Immigrants

A widespread stereotype about low-income children is that they have “deadbeat dads.” That is, that their fathers do not live with them and are not involved in bringing them up.

In this study, Urban Institute scholars found that fathers who lived with their children tended to spend more time with them: helping them with homework, taking them to the extracurricular activities, offering emotional support, etc. In this study, we assume that positive fathering is related to child well-being.

The key finding, however, was that this pattern held true for both low-income and high-income residential fathers, flying in the face of the “deadbeat dad” narrative.

While lower-income children are less likely than higher-income children to live with their fathers, we must remember that many poor children do have relationships with their fathers. Our research suggests that those relationships do not appear to vary as much by income as by residential status in terms of fathering practices.

Previous research on fathers’ parenting practices often focused on low-income fathers who do not live with their children and higher-income fathers who do, conflating income and residence status. Using data from the 2011-13 National Survey of Family Growth, we attempt to rectify this issue by examining differences in parenting practices across a greater range of incomes and residential statuses.

Differences in parenting across family income

Our most significant finding is that there are very small differences by income in the parenting behaviors of fathers who live with their children.

Among fathers who do not live with their children:

  • Low-income fathers are less likely than higher-income fathers to read to young children and help older children with their homework.
  • Only half of low-income fathers have seen their child in the last four weeks. Two-thirds of higher-income fathers have.

Low-income fathers who do not live with their children are eager to be involved in their children’s lives, but struggle to do so for several reasons. Some face barriers to employment, including criminal records, low education, and mental health challenges. And low-income parents often have complex families.

We recommend that responsible fatherhood programs for low-income, nonresidential fathers focus on the importance of reading to children and helping them with their homework, as these parenting practices have been associated with school achievement.

Differences in parenting depending on whether fathers live with children

Regardless of income level, some parenting behaviors varied by whether fathers lived with their children.

  • Residential fathers, regardless of income, spend considerably more time with their children than nonresidential fathers, with the gap only widening as the children continue to age.
  • Residential fathers were also more responsible and warm than nonresidential fathers, measured in how likely they were to take their child to a doctor’s appointment, put them to bed, praise them, and show them physical affection.
  • Overall, we found that fathers who live with their children tend to play a more active role in their lives, which bodes well for their child’s health and development.

Going forward

When formulating public policy, we must remember that many poor children do have relationships with their fathers and those relationships do not appear to vary as much by income as by residential status in terms of fathering practices. With this in mind, we can develop more effective and supportive policies, which is essential in a society where education is often the most important determinant of adult success.

Fathers’ Time with Children

For children to thrive and reach their full potential, they need adequate food and shelter, high-quality health care and education, safe environments, and supportive parents and families. Though families play a key role in meeting children’s needs, society also provides resources and services to support children’s healthy development.

Through their funding of public schools, health systems, and social services, state and local governments provide resources and services to support children’s healthy development. Although not all investments translate directly into better child outcomes, a wide disparity in public investments raises concerns about whether children from low-spending states are on equal footing when pursuing the American Dream.

How much do states differ in spending on children?

State spending on children varies widely, with Vermont spending nearly three times as much on children as Utah. States spending $10,000 or more are generally concentrated in the Northeast, while many states spending $7,000 or less are found in the South and West.

Differences in education allocations drive most of the spending differences on children. Though children’s outcomes are affected by multiple factors, health and education outcomes tend to be higher in states with higher spending levels.

Do children of color tend to live in low-spending states?

Latino and American Indian children are more likely than non-Latino white and black children to live in low-spending states. Half of American Indian/Alaska Native children live in Arizona, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and other states spending less than $7,000 per child.

Similarly, 47 percent of Latino children live in low-spending states, with particular concentrations in California and Florida. Only 28 percent of non-Latino white children and 30 percent of black children live in states spending less than $7,000 per child.



How will growth in child populations affect future spending?

Child populations are projected to grow in southern and western states such as Florida and Texas that spend less per child and to decline in states such as New York and Ohio that spend more. 

It is uncertain whether states that have traditionally spent low amounts per child will boost spending on children to keep up with population growth. If they do not, spending per child will fall in many states, widening the gap between high-spending and low-spending states and heightening concerns about child outcomes.

Policy Implications

  • Low-spending states with increasing child populations may face a fiscal and political challenge of increasing spending on children to keep up with population growth. Although growth in child populations will be accompanied by growth in the adult parent populations (voters and income-earning workers who help support state spending policies), it still may be challenging for these states to increase spending to keep up with population growth.
  • The federal government also could respond to shifts in child populations and disparities in state spending on children. The federal government already plays some role in redistributing resources across states. It spent about $4,500 per child in 2013, and its share of spending on children rose during the Great Recession. But we do not know how average federal spending per child varies across states.
  • We should avoid block grants, which lock in current spending patterns at the expense of children in states experiencing population growth. If converted to federal block grants with fixed funding amounts to each state regardless of the number of children, federal spending per child for federal entitlement programs (e.g., Medicaid) would decline in the 35 states with increasing child populations, while those states may be facing declines in the state spending per child.
  • Should we consider increasing federal spending on children to offset declines in state and local spending and to target federal resources on states with high population growth or low spending on children? Doing so would run counter to the long history of relying on state and local investment in children and public education. We might consider approaches that maintain control of public education at the state and local level while providing less-affluent states with more shared federal and state tax revenue or develop new financing mechanisms for joint federal-state programs.

Before considering whether state and federal policymakers should do more to equalize spending on children across states, we have to address basic assumptions within the status quo. For example, we take it for granted that seniors in various states generally receive the same minimum retirement benefit and have the same access to Medicare. If we expect equity for seniors living in different states, why are we so accepting of large differences in state spending on children?

It may be hard to reach agreement on policy solutions to the disparities in public spending on children, but the first step is to acknowledge the problem.

Unequal Playing Field?