Public spending on children represents an effort to invest in the nation’s future. Investments supporting children’s healthy development and human potential can promote their well-being and help them grow into the next generation of adults and workers, leading to a stronger workforce and economy.
To inform policymakers, children’s advocates, and the general public about how public funds are spent on children, this 16th edition of the annual Kids’ Share report provides an updated analysis of federal expenditures on children from 1960 to 2021. It also offers an updated view of public expenditures made in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Projections of federal expenditures on children through 2032 give a sense of how budget priorities are scheduled to unfold over the longer term under current law. View a single-page formatted version of the report with text and charts side by side here.
A few highlights of the report:
- In response to the pandemic, federal expenditures per child reached a new high in 2021 when the federal government spent about $10,700 per child younger than age 19. Under the law in place as of April 2022, federal spending on children is expected to fall starting in 2022 as temporary relief funding is spent down.
- COVID-19 relief bills enacted during the pandemic expanded assistance to children through three rounds of economic impact payments, an increase in the child tax credit (CTC), an Education Stabilization Fund, expanded child care funding, increased nutritional assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and increased federal funding for Medicaid. Dozens of other children’s programs and tax credits received smaller increases.
- Tax provisions were the largest category of federal support for children in 2021, accounting for nearly half of all federal expenditures on children. Expenditures on children through tax provisions increased sharply in 2021 as a result of the economic impact payments administered through the tax code and a temporary increase in the CTC.
- As a share of federal outlays, the $482 billion invested in children in 2021 was 9.4 percent of all federal outlays, similar to the roughly 9 percent in recent years before the pandemic. Under laws in place as of April 2022, the children’s share of the federal budget is projected to decline to 6.4 percent over the next decade as pressure from growing entitlement spending on adults crowds out other priorities.
- Interest payments on the national debt are projected, under laws in place as of April 2022, to grow as a share of the budget, from 5 percent in 2021 to 13 percent by 2032, reflecting a higher national debt and continued interest rate increases expected in response to high inflation.
- As a share of the economy (GDP), federal outlays for children grew during the pandemic but by significantly less than other budget priorities. Federal outlays during the pandemic grew from about 20 percent of GDP to a post–World War II high of more than 30 percent of GDP during the pandemic, with outlays on children growing from around 2 percent to 2.9 percent of GDP.
- Increased investments during the pandemic are not maintained over the rest of the decade. All categories of spending on children as a share of GDP are projected to decline by 2032 below their pandemic levels. Most categories also see little or negative growth in real dollars even as the economy and federal budget continue expanding.