NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 4, 2004

Combined, the federal, state and local governments spend more than three times as much per capita on social welfare spending for the elderly as on children, say researchers from the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics.

Total expenditures for children are higher because they are more numerous. The researchers found that the overall distribution of such spending changed little between 1980 and 2000:

  • Per capita welfare spending grew from $4,464 per child in 1980 to $6,380 in 2000, while per capita spending for the elderly grew from $15,404 to $19,702 over the same period.
  • Education constituted the bulk of public spending on children, accounting for 70.3 percent of total welfare spending in 1980 and 81.2 percent in 2000.
  • Social Security accounted for 58.7 percent of welfare spending on the elderly in 1980 and 61.7 percent in 2000.
  • As a percentage of GDP, total social welfare spending for both groups was relatively unchanged.

However, the researchers also found per capita medical spending on children remained relatively flat over the past 20 years, while outlays for elders enjoyed modest growth.

Source: Susmita Pati et al., "Generational Differences in U.S. Public Spending, 1980-2000," Health Affairs, October 2004.

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