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Report: Federal Spending On Kids Declines For First Time In 30 Years

Students return for their first day of classes at Barwell Road Elementary School in Raleigh, N.C., on July 9.
Gerry Broome
Students return for their first day of classes at Barwell Road Elementary School in Raleigh, N.C., on July 9.

For the first time since the early 1980s, the federal government will spend less on American children this year, the Urban Institute's latest "Kids' Share" study (pdf) finds.

"In 2012, federal funding on children is projected to decline significantly," the researchers conclude in their report. "State funding is uncertain, but with states still recovering from the recession, it will be challenging for them to fill the gap caused by the drop in federal funding. As a result, there may be cutbacks in services and benefits for children in 2012."

Between direct spending and things like tax credits, total expenditures are expected to fall from $450 billion to $445 billion. But all of this is happening as federal spending expands in general.

Perhaps one of the most illuminating figures is how spending on children compares to other things. The institute, a non-partisan think tank that analyzes problems faced by cities, reports:

"Children's 10 percent share in 2011 compares to the 41 percent spent on the elderly and disabled via Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; 20 percent on defense; 6 percent on interest payments on the debt; and 23 percent on everything else."

Those declines, the researchers found, will continue through at least 2022, if nothing changes.

By that year, the institute estimates the percentage spent on children will be down to 8 percent of the budget and 1.9 percent of GDP, "the lowest level since 2002."

The largest cuts, the report finds, will be in the area of education.

"Federal spending on education was $5 billion lower in 2011 than in 2010," the researchers write.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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