Reports show decline in federal spending on children


March 22, 2007|By ERIC SIEGEL

Two separate reports showed up in my in-box last week. And while they were seemingly unrelated, and their near-simultaneous arrivals were coincidental, each reinforced the point of the other.

The first, by the nonpartisan Urban Institute, found that the share of domestic federal spending on programs to aid children age 19 and younger declined from 1960 through last year, from 20 percent to 15 percent.

While the money spent on children during those 4 1/2 decades increased sixfold in inflation-adjusted dollars to $333 billion a year, the report found that the rise was dwarfed by the increase in spending on nonchild portions of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. During that same time, the latter programs - which the report dubbed the "big three entitlement programs - grew seventeen-fold to $993 billion.

Funded by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation and First Focus, a children's advocacy group, "Kids Share 2007: How Children Fare in the Federal Budget" contains some eye-opening figures.

For example, despite all the attention given to initiatives such as the No Child Left Behind Act, federal spending on education accounts for just 12 percent of the U.S. government's spending on children, behind tax credits and exemptions; income security programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Security Income; and health.

The report notes that children's spending has become increasingly focused on low-income children. Since 1960, the share of federal spending on children that benefits poor kids has risen from 11 percent to 61 percent. But the report said the trend is not necessarily positive.

"The ongoing shift in children's spending from broad-based middle-class relief to programs targeted at the poor has created program benefits that phase out steeply with additional household income, discouraging additional work effort or marriage, both of which may bring new income to a family," write the report's authors, economists Adam Carasso, C. Eugene Steurle and Gillian Reynolds.

What's more, the report projects that based on current laws, children's share of federal domestic spending will decline by another 2 percent over the next decade.

"Absent growth in the children's portion of Medicaid, children's programs are scheduled to see a real decline in spending," the report says. "In sum, the analysis of historical and future trends in the federal budget reveals that children are a diminishing national priority."

One reason that this matter was highlighted by the second report - a brief analysis accompanied by a series of tables - from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The data, from last year's annual American Community Survey, provided updated national and state figures on levels of education that had been reached - and underscored the earnings gap between the educated haves and have-nots.

Adults with master's, doctorate or professional degrees earned about $80,000 a year, roughly four times the earnings of those with less than a high school diploma, the bureau said in a news release that accompanied the data.

High school graduates made about $30,000 a year, the bureau said, while those with bachelor's degrees made about $55,000 a year.

The tables showed that in Maryland, slightly more than 87 percent of adults age 25 and older had at least a high school diploma, and that 35.7 percent had a bachelor's degree or better. The latter was the fifth-highest figure in the country, behind the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Colorado.

The recent data contain no statistics for individual cities and counties. But the 2005 American Community Survey showed that in Baltimore, about 23 percent of adults age 25 and older had a bachelor's degree or higher and slightly less than 75 percent had at least a high school education. Put another way, the city has twice the percentage of adults without a high school diploma as does the state.

Given the most recent census data, it's not surprising that as of two years ago, nearly 30 percent of adults in the city without a high school degree were living in poverty. Given the city schools' graduation rate of about 60 percent, it's also a problem that's not about to go away anytime soon.

The kind of economic payoff that comes from improved education is worth keeping in mind as the state grapples over the next year with ways - slots? tax increases? - to close a structural deficit brought on largely by requirements under the Thornton plan for increased school funding.

It's also worth keeping in mind - as children's advocates reminded us last year in successfully lobbying for increased city funding for after-school and other programs and as the city elections take center stage - that it takes more than increases in education spending to support children so they can become successful adults.

Especially when such programs seem to be a declining national priority.

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