Great faith leader Dr. Gardner Taylor once asked: “Might it be that this land with all of its richness, with all of its opportunity for true greatness, its opportunity to present itself before the world as what a nation ought to be, might now be sowing the seeds of its very destruction in abandonment of its children?” I fear the answer to his question is yes, and nowhere is the abandonment of America’s children and moral values more evident than our federal budget.
According to the Urban Institute’s latest Kids’ Share report, federal investments in children and children’s programs have fallen to their lowest levels in a decade relative to the economy (1.9 percent of GDP). Between 2017 and 2018, federal spending on children and children’s programs decreased by 2.5 percent or $12 billion. The greatest reductions were seen in education and child nutrition spending—some of the areas of greatest need in a nation where a majority of children cannot read or compute at grade level and more than 12.5 million live in food-insecure households.
Of the $485 billion in federal dollars spent on children last year, the majority (61 percent) went to child tax and health benefits. Less than 10 percent went to early childhood care and education, social services, housing, and job training for youth. In fact, only $15 billion was invested in early care and education—less in an entire year than our nation spent in just 8 days on the military.
America’s continued underinvestment in children is clearly a conscious choice. We don’t lack the necessary funds, we just invest them elsewhere. In 2018, we spent just 9 percent of our federal budget on children and children’s programs. In contrast, we spent almost half (45 percent) on adult retirement and health benefits; 15 percent on the military; and 8 percent on interest payments on the national debt.
Where is our national commitment to our children—our future workers, soldiers, and consumers? When will political leaders stop abandoning and neglecting their youngest and most vulnerable constituents? What will it take for our nation to adequately and fairly invest in the health, education and development of every child?
We must urgently change course, transform our misguided budget and policy priorities, and make child well-being our top national priority. Meeting children’s basic needs should be a no brainer. In the words of CDF founder Marian Wright Edelman, “The question is not whether we can afford to invest in every child, it is whether we can afford not to.”