Budgeting for the Children: Where Does the Money Go?

How much of the federal budget is dedicated to helping children? From healthcare and nutrition to education and tax benefits, the United States government spends hundreds of billions of dollars on children.

To see exactly how much the federal government spends on the nation’s children, we created an easy-to-read visualization using data from 2018.

  • Federal spending on children is decreasing and recently hit a 10-year low.
  • The majority of federal spending on children goes towards healthcare, including things like Medicaid and vaccinations.
  • The United States’ interest payments on debt will soon surpass total federal spending on children.
  • A large portion of federal spending on children comes from tax reductions, such as the child tax credit.

To create our visualization, we used data from the Urban Institute’s annual report on federal expenditures on children. This report provides a complete picture of federal spending on programs and tax provisions that benefit children. Using this data, we created a sunburst chart to demonstrate how much the federal government spends on children in total and how this money is divided between different programs.

Top Categories for Federal Expenditures on Children

1. Health: $116.2 billion
2. Tax Reductions: $105.5 billion
3. Refundable Portions of Tax Credits: $72.7 billion
4. Nutrition: $57.2 billion
5. Income Security: $54.7 billion

Top Programs for Federal Expenditures on Children

1. Medicaid: $93.3 billion
2. Child Tax Credit (Nonrefundable): $54.9 billion
3. Earned Income Tax Credit: $52.1 billion
4. SNAP: $29.7 billion
5. Exclusion for Employee-Sponsored Health Insurance: $25.1 billion

In total, the United States government spent more than $484 billion on children in 2018, or about $6,200 per child under age 19, according to the report by the Urban Institute. The majority of this spending is dedicated to health costs and tax provisions.

While this may seem like a lot, it is actually lower than government expenditures on children in 2017 due to lower spending on education, nutrition, and child tax credits. Spending is expected to drop even more as the portion of the federal budget dedicated to children is expected to drop to 7.5% over the next decade. As child-related federal spending continues to decrease, the United States will soon be spending more on interest payments on debt than on children.

According to the Urban Institute's report, the United States has the second-highest child poverty rate among 29 developed countries. Despite high child poverty rates, the United States is continuing to decrease federal spending on children. By analyzing this visualization, we can see not only how much money the federal government spends on children, but also which programs this portion of the budget is applied to.

Do you think the U.S. should reevaluate its child-related expenditures? Should a larger portion of the federal budget be dedicated to children? Let us know in the comment section below.

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