What Does Government Spend on Children? Evidence from Five Cities


A study of expenditures by all levels of government for services to children in five economically distressed cities—Baltimore, Detroit, Oakland, Philadelphia, and Richmond—from 1997 to 2000 reveals that:

  • Spending on children increased only marginally compared to overall economic and expenditure growth. After adjusting for inflation, average per-child spending in the five cities grew by less than 2 percent. Meanwhile, the economy grew at a 7 percent rate per capita, and state per capita expenditures rose nearly 12 percent.
  • Education was the largest children’s service on an expenditure basis, accounting for 42 percent of total spending on children across the five cities. Changes in real per-pupil education spending from 1997 to 2000 varied dramatically, however, from a 2 percent decline in Richmond to a 26 percent increase in Baltimore.
  • During the late 1990s, expenditures on income support dropped, while child care, social services, and juvenile justice spending increased. Dramatic reductions in TANF and food stamp caseloads fueled a 30 percent decline in real spending on income support. At the same time, spending increased for child care (90 percent), social services (32 percent), and criminal justice programs involving children (18 percent).
  • State and federal governments funded 80 percent of children’s expenditures across the five cities. On average, local governments raised just one of every five dollars spent on children, and the local share did not exceed one-third in any of the cities. The federal government provided most financing for income support, child care, and employment services, while states were primary funders for education, health, and social services.

As our findings demonstrate, a strong national economy provides no guarantee that expenditures on behalf of children in economically distressed cities will increase. With this type of fiscal analysis, citizens and government officials in all types of cities can understand from a local perspective how economic, policy and political changes impact government spending on children.