Government spending on children fell by 7 percent in 2012 as Recovery Act funding boosts to kids’ programs dried up. In percentage terms, the $28 billion cut from 2011 levels was the largest one-year pullback in funding for children since Ronald Reagan was in the White House. According to a new analysis from First Focus it is only the beginning: The federal government will spend less and less on America’s children each year over the next decade unless it changes course.
The largest proportion of the $348 billion the government spent on children in 2012 came through the tax code, with tax rebates and subsidies tied to children accounting for 39 percent of the total. But tax expenditures on children are just 8 percent of the total spending through the tax code, much of which goes to corporations. Education funding was less than 14 percent of total 2012 spending on children, at $48 billion, and absorbed the majority of the total cuts that First Focus identified. Compared to the previous year, the government cut education spending on kids by more than one quarter.
First Focus previously reported that 2012 was the third consecutive year in which spending on children had fallen in raw dollar terms, and Tuesday’s report indicates it will fall again in 2013. Children’s programs will see raw-dollar funding totals rise over the following decade, but the government will actually be spending less of its total output on children over that period. First Focus reports the share of the federal budget that goes to kids will fall from 10 percent in 2012 to 8 percent in 2023.
Figures that compare spending to the size of the overall economy also show a projected drop in the resources the government will dedicate to kids. The only form of spending on children that is projected to rise is health care spending. Nutrition programs, education, early-childhood programs, housing, social services, and provisions of the tax code that benefit children are all projected to decline:
The report’s figures reflect the continuing impact of budget cuts from sequestration over the coming decade. The “constrained environment created by non-defense discretionary spending caps” means “spending on children is expected to fall in absolute dollars between 2012 and 2023 — not even keeping pace with inflation.” In other words, the austerity agenda pushed into law by the crisis-driven budgeting failures of 2012 will undermine the country’s ability to invest in its future workers, business leaders, soldiers, artists, and innovators for a full decade. That trajectory runs counter to the consensus recommendation of business leaders, military leaders, law enforcement leaders, and progressives, all of whom agree that the country should invest more in children over the coming years.