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.