Federal Spending Favors Health Care for Seniors Over Kids
The federal government's spending on children's programs, including health care and education, is limited by the growing proportion of the budget spent on older U.S. residents, according to a study released Thursday by the Urban Institute, USA Today reports.
The report examined federal spending since 1960 and found that among more than 100 federal programs for children, the share of domestic spending and tax breaks they received declined from 20.1% in 1960 to 15.4% in 2007. Without a shift in policy, that share will drop to 13.1% by 2017, while the spending percentage of the gross domestic product for children's programs will drop from 2.6% in 2007 to 2.1% in 2017, the report projected.
The percentage of the GDP spent on adults receiving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will grow from 7.6% in 2007 to 9.5% in 2017. A majority of spending on adults comes in the form of entitlement programs, whose costs automatically rise because of population increases and inflation, while children's programs "must battle others for a share of the budget," USA Today reports.
Spending from federal, state and local governments on seniors is three times greater than spending on children. At the federal level, spending on adults is eight times greater than spending on children.
The report states, "Despite frequent rhetoric from policymakers on the priority given to children, the federal budget makes fairly clear that children are less of a priority and more of an afterthought."
According to USA Today, the disparity can be attributed in part to the political power of seniors, "while children are relatively powerless."
Close to 70% of seniors voted in 2004, compared with 58% of the overall population. In the 2006 federal elections, retirees contributed $129 million to political parties and candidates -- more than any other category of contributors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, said, "Children are a voiceless, voteless constituency. They don't lobby, and they don't make campaign contributions."
Bill Hoagland, a former budget advisor to Senate Republicans, said, "I know for a fact, firsthand, that ballots are distributed at nursing homes on Election Day, and they're not distributed at the kindergarten level."
Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation disagreed that children's programs are underfunded. Riedl said that education and other children's programs have "received healthy increases," adding that "progress is not determined by how much Washington throws at a problem" (Wolf, USA Today, 3/15).
The report is available online. Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the report.
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Thursday reported on the report, including its health-related findings. The segment includes comments from co-author Adam Carasso of the Urban Institute and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) (Jones, "Morning Edition," NPR, 3/15).
Audio of the segment is available online.