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Cutting Children from the Budget

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

The New York Times released a report today on the legislative successes and failures of President Joe Biden’s first two years in office in advance of the US midterm elections. The report emphasizes where Biden’s Democrats were able to work with Republicans to make important fiscal investments.

I could not help being struck, however, with the difference between those parts of Biden’s agenda that passed and those that did not. The difference is stark if looked at it through a childist lens. It is as if a scalpel were taken to the initial proposals to cut out anything directly benefiting children.

While most of the agenda was at least partially funded, just about every proposal specifically helping children was entirely eliminated. This includes the entire budget for families ($1,135 billion for childcare, parental leave, family health, child tax credits, and the like), the entire budget for education ($446 billion including for prekindergarten and financial aid), and the entire budget for school buildings ($99 billion, the only part of building infrastructure that received nothing). In all, children ended up losing $1,680 billion in support, constituting 58% of all cuts.

The scale of this age-based disparity can be seen vividly in the article’s graphic comparison:

Note the large blank spaces were Education and Families had been.

Yes, one can laud unprecedented investments in clean climate investments, which of course benefit children greatly, and indeed can be attributed in part to children’s leading activism on the issue. And yes, it is good that Biden at least wanted to invest in children in the first place.

But why would legislators either oppose funding for children, or cave in when it is threatened? And why so systematically?

What is painfully obvious is that policymakers, and by implication US society overall, evidently place little priority on children’s well-being. When hard choices have to be made, children lose. They are literally marginalized. Perhaps it is no wonder when children have no influence on legislators’ jobs at the ballot box. But even this is arguably only a manifestation of a broad and systemic culture of adultism.

Even more troubling still, perhaps, is that the pervasive adultism so clearly on display here goes entirely without comment. I have heard no discussion whatsoever about this glaring age disparity.

Anyone who does not see the need for a childist critique is not really paying attention.

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