Right now, the next generation is getting shortchanged all around, with children too often treated as an afterthought in policies meant to appeal to their elders. The United States tolerates the highest rate of child poverty in the developed world. Yet federal expenditures on children — including everything from their share of Medicaid and the earned-income tax credit to targeted efforts like child nutrition and education programs — fell 1 percent last year and will fall an additional 4 percent this year, to $428 billion, according to estimates by the Urban Institute based on the Congressional Budget Office’s projections.
The federal government spent $8 billion less on child health last year than it did the previous year, as fiscal stimulus programs to combat the Great Recession were phased out. It cut aid to states to pay for primary education by about the same amount.
The states, which provide more than 60 percent of the total government dollars spent on children, aren’t in great shape either. According to the Urban Institute’s estimates, state and municipal spending on children fell in each of the last three years.
And the outlook is not much better for the coming decade. Despite health care reform, which will lead to coverage for millions of uninsured children, the Urban Institute forecasts that federal expenditures on children — including direct spending and tax breaks — will shrink to about 2.3 percent of the nation’s economic output by 2022, from 3 percent last year.
Children have needs besides sound fiscal accounts. Deprived childhoods lay the groundwork for future social ills. We have the third-worst rate of infant mortality among 30 industrialized countries and the second-highest teenage pregnancy rate, after Mexico. We’re in the bottom quarter of countries in terms of literacy. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, half of American children born to low-income parents grow up to be low-income adults.
Investing in children is not just a matter of fairness but of economic vitality. Early interventions to help disadvantaged children can have an enormous return. They improve children’s cognitive and social abilities. They promote healthy behavior. They increase productivity and reduce crime. Investing in education is about as good an investment as a society can make.
Secular humanist, freethinker, progressive, and bibliophile. I love living life, learning things, and meeting people.