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 (birth through age 18), this 17th edition of the annual Kids’ Share report provides a new analysis of federal expenditures on children from 1960 to 2022. It also offers an updated view of public expenditures made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Projections of federal expenditures on children through 2033 give a sense of how budget priorities are scheduled to unfold over the longer term under current law.
A few highlights of the report:
- Federal expenditures per child were about $9,910 per child in 2022, down from the pandemic-related high reached in 2021. Under the laws in place as of March 30, 2023, federal expenditures on children are expected to continue declining as temporary relief funding is spent down.
- COVID-19 relief bills expanded assistance to children through dozens of programs but were largely temporary. Children’s expenditures through tax provisions and social services, training, and housing programs peaked in 2021 before falling in 2022. Federal spending on nutritional assistance and income security, health, K–12 education, and child care and early education programs was higher in 2022 than 2021. Expenditures in all these categories are expected to fall in 2023.
- Tax provisions were the largest category of federal support for children in 2022, accounting for more than one-third of all federal expenditures on children. Health, nutrition, education, and income security were the next largest categories of federal expenditures on children. Relatively little was spent on the four smallest categories: child care and early education, social services, housing, and training.
- State and local outlays on children increased from $11,250 per child in 2019 to $11,410 per child in 2020, defying early expectations that declining revenues would lead state and local government to cut spending during the pandemic.
- As a share of federal outlays, the $609 billion invested in children in 2022 was 10 percent of all federal outlays. Under laws in place as of March 30, 2023, the children’s share of federal outlays is projected to decline to 6.2 percent over the next decade as budgetary pressure from growing entitlement spending on adults threatens to crowd out other priorities.
- Interest payments on the national debt are projected to grow as a share of federal outlays, from 8 percent in 2022 to 15 percent by 2033, under laws in place as of March 30, 2023. This reflects a higher national debt and continued high interest rates.
- While federal outlays for children grew during the pandemic, other budget priorities grew even more. Total federal outlays during the pandemic grew from about 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to a post–World War II high of more than 30 percent of GDP, before falling to 25 percent of GPD in 2022. Outlays on children grew from around 2 percent of GDP prepandemic to 2.8 percent in 2021 and declined to 2.4 percent in 2022.
By 2033, all categories of expenditures on children as a share of GDP are projected to decline below current levels and most are also projected to decline below prepandemic levels. Relative to prepandemic levels, only nutrition spending for children in 2033 is projected to increase as a share of GDP. As a share of GDP, all other categories of expenditures on children are expected to decline or remain flat compared with prepandemic levels.