June 3, 2011

"For Every $1 the Federal Government Spends on Children, It Spends $4 to $5 on Seniors"

When I researched the previous posting about the decline in funding for NIH research into seniors' health issues, my first thought was "we need to lobby to reverse that trend!" But then I remembered the quote in the title above, which I've seen often in today's health care debate. It gave me pause.

I did some digging on this children vs. seniors issue, and everything I found confirmed a drop in the share of federal spending on children in recent decades, while the share for seniors has risen dramatically. The figures I've seen deal with overall spending, not just on health care. The share for seniors, for example, includes Social Security and Medicare -- gigantic programs.

One report showed that the federal spending on young Americans is about half what it was 40 years ago. In 1960, around 20% of the budget went to programs directed at Americans under the age of 18. Today it's 10%.

Conversely, expenditures on the elderly have more than doubled since 1960. And we've all heard (incessantly!) that Social Security and Medicare -- unchecked -- will consume an ever-increasing share of the federal budget.

These issues create a dilemma for me. I want to see more funding for research into Parkinson's and prostate cancer (I have both) and Alzheimer's and dementia (my greatest health fears). But I'm dismayed that achieving the American dream -- easy enough for my generation -- has become much harder for my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

I'm inclined to believe that additional funding for Parkinson's and Alzheimer's could greatly reduce the megabucks the government now spends caring for those sufferers. Sounds reasonable, right? But at the cost of jeopardizing funds for education and job training for young people? You tell me.

The issues involved in our health care system are much more complex, tangled, and nuanced than our politicians -- with their simplistic slogans -- often suggest.

I've heard enough from those politicians! Now, I'd love to hear from YOU. What do you think?

(I ask with some trepidation. I don't want this blog to become a forum for rehashing the politics of health care.)


Susan Carhart said...

I have often thought about all the money that could be saved if every child was given a good start in life.  I'd particularly like to see more attention paid to emotional and behavioral problems--in both children and so-called adults (see Goldman's book Emotional Intelligence which argues that EQ is more important that IQ to success in life). 
But, sigh, seniors vote more!   And sometimes I think that stupid people vote more than all the rest of us!  (unless there's just more of them).  8-)

Susan Carhart said...

On a more practical side, I often think that Medicare should be means-tested.  But then I find it irksome that those of us who were frugal and denied ourselves throughout our middle years so that we could be secure in retirement should have to continue to deny ourselves to support those who bought the 5-bedroom houses and new cars every couple years.   It's a dilemma. We want the truly needy to have help, but who are they? and who are merely moochers?  Maybe instead of means testing finances they could means test IQ. If you had the ability and still are a loser, too bad. (Poor EQ is no excuse. If you have the smarts you should figure out how to grow up despite your upbringing).  

Cgallogly said...

Since the entitlement programs for Social Security and Medicare were included in your statistics, it should not be surprising that the government is spending more on seniors than youth. There is no similar entitlement program for youth.  These are also programs that the population invests in across the lifespan, so again, not really comparable to youth programs.  What might make more sense is comparing publicly funded youth programs and publicly funded age programs, not including entitlements.  I think your story would be quite different.  Remember, all public funding for education would still be in the mix.  As a percentage of the federal budget, Social Security and Medicare are huge, but they are not supported generally by tax dollars, and instead are supported by payroll deductions.  It is important to compare apples to apples, not apples to oranges.

Frank Weathersby said...

Cgallogly, I'm with you. That "five-to-one" just isn't a clean comparison.

Why not focus strictly on research expenditures for both groups? Exclude ALL the extraneous data -- like Medicare and school lunch programs. I suspect the research ratio would become much less sensational. Or would it? 

John Schappi said...

Frank and Cgallogly --  You both make good points. We need to be careful with these broad brush statements -- like my quote of the 1-t0-5 spending ratios for kids/seniors -- and do the sort of analyze and questioning that you both do.  When I get some time, I'll try Googling to see if I can find info on the research ratio for kids/seniors. I did a quick search on the point made by Cgallogly and found a Wikipedia mention that, according to the Social Security trustees, continuing payroll tax
revenues at the rate of 12.4% will enable Social Security to pay about 74% of
promised benefits during the 2040s, with this ratio falling to about 70% by the
end of the forecast period in 2080.But I know these estimates can vary widely depending upon the other estimates that are used to make predictions like this.

Brian Lockett said...

Some sobering stats on Medicare from Bob Samuelson in today's (June 6 Wash Post). When Congress created Medicare/Medicaid in 1965, health spending was 2.5 percent of the fed budget. In 2010 it was 26.5 percent and, according to the Obama admin, it will increase to more than 30 percent by 2016. By comparison, defense spending is about 20 percent of the budget and science R&D is 4 percent. No question the status quo is unsustainable. 

John Schappi said...

Always good to hear from you, Brian.  Yeah, I saw the Samuelson piece this morning as well.  I agree "the status quo is unsustainable" but I also see no signs that Congress and the President will agree on any significant changes in the status quo. So I'll continue to try to follow the Serenity Prayer and  find the "courage to change the things you can" by upping my donations to worthy health research efforts.

John Schappi said...

Hi Susan -- As an aging senior who is fortunate enough to have more money than time left, :-) I'd not object to being asked to pay more for the Social Security and Medicare benefits I'm getting. I know other similarly situated seniors who feel the same. But the politicians seem to fear that every senior will vote against them if they dare do anything like that.  Gridlock and deadlock therefore are likely to continue.