Crumbs for kids

Eugene Steuerle

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

KAI RYSSDAL: It's not just money for Iraq and Afghanistan that's being debated on Capitol Hill.

 House and Senate Democrats have finalized their budget resolutions for next year: $2.9 trillion.   A big chunk of it for Social Security and Medicare. Much of the rest for big increases for departments like Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs. Commentator Eugene Steuerle says those budgetary priorities speak volumes.


EUGENE STEUERLE: Kids. Focusing on kids. Maybe that's the only real way we'll ever straighten out the government's budget problems.

You see, the government now promises the average middle-aged couple about a million dollars in benefits when they retire. And next year, the Baby Boomers start retiring in droves. That means in 25 years, about one in three adults will be collecting Social Security.

But who will pay for those benefits? Who else? Our kids.

When we adults paid our Social Security taxes, most of that was used right away to support our parents and grandparents. Little, if any, was kept in reserve. Now we're counting on younger generations to support us. So you'd think that we might want to invest a little in them. After all, the more productive they are, the more they can provide for us.

When you look at the total budget, though, no politician has made a top federal priority out of investing in our kids.

Nobody's really talking about all the things we need to do to help all children reach their potential — ranging from prenatal care to early childhood education to higher-quality math and science teachers.

It's not that we're getting poorer, either. The government estimates that we'll have about $650 billion more revenues annually in about 10 years — simply due to economic growth.

But all that additional revenue will be eaten up in the form of ever higher benefits for us adults. Almost none will go to our kids.

These skewed priorities defy reason. As we invest in kids proportionately less, how can we expect them to get good jobs? Without higher incomes, how can they cover our ballooning benefits?

Investment in children needs to become a national priority. Otherwise, all our children will get are budgetary crumbs.

RYSSDAL: Eugene Steuerle is a senior fellow at the Urban Institute.

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