Spending on Children by the Numbers.

Nancy Folbre, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has a great post at the New York Times's Economix blog today noting how little we spend in tax dollars on children compared to other age groups, especially the elderly. It's particularly important because study after study shows how critical investment in the first few years of life turns out to be, she writes.

Two salient patterns emerge. First, public spending on children amounts to about 2.2 percent of the gross domestic product. By comparison, we spend about 5.3 percent of G.D.P. on the elderly.

Second, public spending per child goes up after children reach age 6, despite considerable research showing that younger children enjoy especially significant benefits from early-childhood education.

Increasing spending on children before they get to school -- in, for example, better financial assistance for parents of young children who need it, better nutrition programs and free day cares and preschools -- would also do a lot to help close the poverty gap. Poorer children start out in school at a disadvantage that gets harder and harder to overcome, so the most efficient way to address it would be early on.

Folbre notes that Germany has proposed a solution to the problem in giving parents of young children an extra vote. But that wouldn't help the children of the disenfranchised most likely to be helped by such investments. For the most part, voter registration and participation goes up with income. So while the parents who vote might know what's best for their own kids, making sure that jibes with what's good for all children is probably better off in society's hands.

And Folbre made the point that those without children are invested in what happens to children as well. That also speaks to what she feels the solution is; calling the spending we do on the behalf of children an investment rather than a cost. After all, that's what it is.

-- Monica Potts

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