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Education Funding

By One Measure, Federal Spending on Children Has Hit a 10-Year Low

By Andrew Ujifusa — September 17, 2019 2 min read
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The share of the federal budget that goes toward children, including education spending, dipped to just below 2 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2018—the lowest level in the decade.

That’s one main conclusion from a new Urban Institute report on federal spending focused on children, including K-12, health care, nutrition, and various tax benefits. Released by the Washington think tank on Tuesday, the report also found that total federal spending on those younger than 19 was $6,200 in 2018, which also represented a decline from previous years.

However, “Kids’ Share 2019: Report on Federal Expenditures on Children through 2018 and Future Projections” also found that the share of federal aid for children that’s targeted specifically at those from low-income families has grown recently, reaching 61 percent of such spending in 2018. (Figures in the report are adjusted for inflation.)

The organization forecasts a gloomier outlook for fans of Washington spending on kids in the next decade. In 2029, interest payments on the national debt are expected to significantly outpace federal spending on children, the Urban Institute says. Right now, federal outlays for kids outpaces those interest payments by just over a percentage point. Here’s the organization’s visual representation of that projected shift:

The report states that share of the budget dedicated to children will get squeezed not just by interest payments on the debt, but also by the growth of mandatory spending on programs like Social Security and Medicare that will serve an aging population.

As a category of spending on children, education outlays are projected to fall from $41 billion in 2018 to $36 billion in 2029.

“Mandatory health spending on children is the only category with strong growth projected over the next decade, which is consistent with long-term trends in all federal health spending,” the organization says. (The Urban Institute also stresses that these figures can always change if policy does over the next 10 years.)

During the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of Education’s budget has grown slightly in nominal dollars. All bets are off, however, if another economic downturn hits the American economy.

Note also that the above chart shows that between 1990 and 2010, the share of the federal budget dedicated to children nearly doubled from 5.4 percent to 10.6 percent.

Click here for our write-up of last year’s Urban Institute’s analysis of federal children’s spending.