On Tuesday, September 17, the Urban Institute released their 13th annual Kids’ Share report, Kids’ Share 2019: Analyzing Federal Expenditures on Children, on federal expenditures on children through 2018 and future projections. The report and a panel discussed federal spending on children younger than 19 from 1960 to 2018 and makes future projections through 2029.

Julia B. Isaacs, senior fellow and Kids’ Share coauthor at the Urban Institute, presented an overview of the Kids’ Share key findings. In 2018, spending fell to about $6,200 per child younger than 19. When it comes to federal funding, mandatory spending on adults is leaving less and less room in the budget for children overall. Only 9 percent of federal spending goes to children while 15 percent goes to defense and 45 percent to adult services. Also, interest on the national debt is growing as well. Federal spending is projected to increase over the next ten years, and revenues will most likely not keep up. Therefore, interest payments on the national debt will exceed spending on children in the next few years. Federal spending is projected to grow relative to the economy but spending on children is expected to fall.

The panelists included Jennifer Brooks with Independent Social Impact Advisor, Indivar Dutta-Gupta, co-executive director at the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, Mattie Quinn, Staff Writer at Governing, C. Eugene Steuerle, Institute Fellow and Kids’ Share coauthor at the Urban Institute, and moderator Heather Hahn, Senior Fellow and Kids’ Share coauthor at the Urban Institute.

“By not investing in children there is a macro effect from these micro policies,” Steuerle stated when discussing the consequences of a diminishing children’s budget. Hahn asked the panelists what the practical implications of the current spending on children are. Jennifer Brooks believes that families are going to pick up the burden. She says that “poverty is fundamentally a story about children” and that we need to understand how significant the impact of poverty is. Ms. Brooks credits the low percentage of spending on children to misplaced values. “We fund the things we value, like the elderly and veterans, but we don’t fund children,” Dutta-Gupta mentioned that people’s incomes are the lowest before, during, and after they have kids. Quinn and the other panelists agreed that people are much more willing to help kids than they are to help families and that it may stem from a social bias toward people who “don’t work hard enough” or “had kids too early.” Steuerle believes that sometimes universal programs are the best way to reach low-income families and avoid the unintentional segregation often caused by means-tested programs.

The panel concluded with a conversation about the future; Heather Hahn asked, “Are children part of the conversation in the 2020 election?” The panelists agreed that whoever is elected matters when it comes to children’s spending not just in the White House but in state and local elections as well. Children are not the “hot” topic in the 2020 presidential debates. “We’re not investing in our future,” said Steuerle. The panelist agreed that moving forward includes pushing the issue on all sides, because every topic has some implication for children, and their voices need to be heard.

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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