E stimating federal expenditures on children is a difficult exercise. No government report compiles all spending on children in one place; rather, spending is scattered across an array of government programs, and many programs that serve broader populations re- quire estimations of the share directed to children. We face three primary challenges in estimating federal expenditures on children. First, we must define what spending on children is, a difficult undertaking that can raise broad conceptual questions. When does childhood begin, and when does it end? What is spending on children compared with spending on their parents or the population as a whole? And should expenditures include reductions in taxes as well as direct spending programs? Reasonable people may provide different answers to these questions; below we outline how children’s spending is identified in our analysis.
Second, we must collect spending data for each of the more than 100 programs and tax provisions that we have identified as benefitting children. And, finally, for programs that serve both children and adults, we must calculate the share of program expenditures that go to children, a task requiring the collection of considerable programmatic data from various sources as well as judgment calls as to how to allocate benefits within families.
Defining and Identifying Programs Benefitting Children
Under our definition of spending on children, a program or tax provision must meet one of the following criteria in order to be included in this analysis (as a whole or in part):
1. Benefits or services go entirely to children (e.g., elementary and secondary education programs, child nutrition, foster care payments); this also includes programs where a portion provides benefits directly to children (e.g., Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income);
2. Family benefit levels increase with the inclusion of children in the application for the benefit (e.g., SNAP/Food Stamps, low-rent public housing); or
3. Children are necessary for a family to qualify for any benefits (e.g., TANF, the child tax credit, the dependent exemption).
AN ANALYSIS OF FEDERAL EXPENDITURES ON CHILDREN