Why I picked it up: Back when I was a museum director, I remember being told that your budget is your mission. That is, how resources are spent reflect the mission and values of an organization. Thus, what the United States spends via federal expenditures children (in this case) also reflects to some degree on our values as an American society. I picked this up to see if we are moving in a future-oriented direction, investing children … or not.
Given that those over 65 are likely to outnumber minor children by about 2045, I'll be honest and say I am not too hopeful for child welfare. Not that we shouldn't spend on the care of seniors (we should), but more that I don't think the high costs of senior care should come at the expense of children.
What it is: An analysis of federal expenditures on children from 1960 to 2017, and projections to 2028. It is a decent primer for what is actually spent where.
Key findings: Federal spending on children relative to GDP is expected to decline over every major category (health, education, income, security, etc.), and children's share of the budget is projected to drop from 9.4% to 6.9%. This decline is largely due to increased spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid (45% of budget, excluding spending on children; it is expected to hit 50% by 2028), and interest payments on the debt (the latter of which will actually exceed spending on children by 2020).
Federal expenditures for children consist primarily of healthcare (Medicaid, CHIP, etc.), tax exemptions and credits to families, nutritional benefits, and income security. Low-income children receive 61% of all federal expenditures for children.
Education receives <10% of federal expenditures for children. States, in the aggregate, spend nearly twice as much on children than the federal government, and the bulk of their expenditures are for education. Indeed, states and local government provide 93% of governmental expenditures on child education. That being said, the 7% spent by the federal government is projected to decline steeply.
Implications for museums: First, and this isn't a museum implication but a societal implication, we as a country have essentially decided that investing in children isn't where we should focus. I find that troubling for many reasons (which you likely share).
This report also portends a troubling future for programs that are deemed more expendable in the budget. As the population ages, and funding becomes tighter as Social Security and Medicare obligations increase (as well as other, new challenges that come with an aging population), any program that is deemed remotely expendable, rightly or wrongly, is likely to face greater scrutiny (at best) and even elimination. I fear the battles over IMLS, NEH, and NEA are only beginning.
Additionally, budget constraints will likely ripple out to states and local governments. When federal dollars only reach so far, state and local governments will then be forced to conduct their own assessments and reallocations to make up gaps in childhood care and education, care for seniors, and perhaps for infrastructure and other basic needs. That may mean trouble for line items deemed more expendable, such as state parks, municipal museums, and arts and humanities funding.
Lest I leave you depressed and pessimistic, however, the future doesn't have to mean absolute doom and gloom for museums if museums are proactively part of the solution. That means, when it comes to children, being truly indispensable to child development and welfare. While some well-educated museum-going parents may be prepared to say that now, when push comes to shove I doubt museums will make the cut unless we actually are indispensable to all children, providing measurable, positive impacts on those children and society. Even then, while it would give museums an opportunity compete effectively for funding, my reading of this report indicates funding opportunities will still likely be from private sources.
Let's also consider seniors. As their numbers grow, so will their health and social needs … but increasing evidence shows that cultural engagement (including museums) can help maintain well-being, decreasing healthcare costs. That gives museums an opening to develop positive impacts for individual seniors while also providing pragmatic cost-saving solutions for health spending. If, of course, we are savvy about what we do, measure the impact, and make the case.
Read or skip? The executive summary is excellent. Otherwise, skip, unless you are planning on advocating directly on this issue. The full report really gets into the weeds of budgetary policy (example: how the Budget Control Act of 2011 affected spending on children).
Full citation: "Kids' Share 2018: Report on Federal Expenditures on Children Through 2017 and Future Projections." Urban Institute. July 2018.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.