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What is the Deficit as Percent of GDP?

Deficit: The amount by which the government’s total budget outlays exceeds its total receipts for a fiscal year. US Senate Budget Committee

In FY 2018 the federal deficit was 3.9 percent of GDP.

This year, FY 2019, the federal government in its latest budget has estimated that the deficit will be 4.7 percent of GDP.

 

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Recent US Federal Deficits as Percent of GDP

Chart D.31f: Recent US Federal Deficits as Pct GDP
(click chart to see the numbers)

Federal Deficits were declining in the mid 2000s as the nation climbed out of the 2000-02 recession, down to 1.1 percent of GDP in 2007. But the recession that started late in 2006 drove deficits higher, with a deficit of nearly 10 percent of GDP in FY 2009, driven mainly by bank bailouts under the TARP program.

After the Crash of 2008 the federal deficits started decreasing, getting to 4 percent of GDP in FY 2013 and 2.4 percent of GDP in FY 2015, but increasing to 3.2 percent of GDP in FY 2016.

Half a Century of US Federal Deficits as Percent of GDP

Chart D.32f: Half a Century of US Federal Deficits

Betwen 1965 and 1990 the federal deficit generally increased, from 0.2 percent GDP in 1965 to 4.4 percent GDP in the aftermath of the 1990-91 recession. The only notable departure was a five year bulge in deficits in the early to mid 1980s due to the Reagan tax-rate cuts and defense buildup.

In the 1990s, during the Clinton administration, deficits consistently declined year on year, from a deficit of 3.9 percent of GDP in 1993 to a surplus of 2.3 percent GDP in 2000.

Tax cuts and the 2000-02 recession and the Iraq war caused a return to deficit spending in the early 2000s and the Bush administration, reaching 3.4 percent GDP in 2004. Deficits decline to 1.1 percent GDP in 2007 before ballooning to 9.8 percent GDP in 2009 in the downdraft of the Great Recession. Deficits declined to 2.4 percent GDP by 2015 and are expected to continue above 2 percent GDP through 2020.

US Federal Deficits in the 20th Century

Chart D.03f: Federal Deficit in 20th Century

The two major peaks of the federal deficit in the 20th century occurred during World War I and World War II.

Deficits increased steadily from the 1960s through the early 1990s, and then declined rapidly for the remainder of the 1990s.

Federal deficits increased in the early 2000s, and went over 10 percent of GDP in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008.

In the recovery from the Crash of 2008 deficits have slowly reduced to 3 percent of GDP.

US Federal Deficits since the Founding

Chart D.04f: Federal Deficit since Founding

The United States government did not always run a deficit. In the 19th century the federal government typically only ran deficits during wartime or during financial crises. The government ran a deficit of 2 percent of GDP at the end of the war of 1812, and through the decade after the Panic of 1837 and culminating in the US - Mexican War of 1846-48. It ran a deficit of over 7 percent of GDP in the Civil War; and ran a deficit in the depressed 1890s.
In the 20th century the US ran a deficit during World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and in almost all years since 1960, during peace and war.

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Debt Data Sources

Debt data is from official government sources.

Gross Domestic Product data comes from US Bureau of Economic Analysis and measuringworth.com.

Detailed table of debt data sources here.

Federal debt data begins in 1792.

State and local debt data begins in 1820.

State and local debt data for individual states begins in 1957.


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Next Data Update

> US, State Pop FY17

> data update schedule.

Data Sources for 2014_2023:

Sources for 2014:

GDP, GO: GDP, GO Sources
Federal: Fed. Budget: Hist. Tables 3.2, 5.1, 7.1
State and Local: State and Local Gov. Finances

Sources for 2023:

GDP, GO: GDP, GO Sources
Federal: Fed. Budget: Hist. Tables 3.2, 5.1, 7.1
State and Local: State and Local Gov. Finances
'Guesstimated' by projecting the latest change in reported spending forward to future years

> data sources for other years
> data update schedule.

Federal Deficit, Receipts, Outlays Actuals for FY18

On October 15, 2018, the US Treasury reported in its Monthly Treasury Statement (and xls) for September that the federal deficit for FY 2018 ending September 30, 2018, was $779 billion. Here are the numbers, including total receipts, total outlays, and deficit compared with the numbers projected in the FY 2019 federal budget published in February 2018:

Federal Finances
FY 2018 Outcomes
Budget
billions
Outcome
billions
Receipts $3,340$3,329
Outlays$4,130$4,108
Deficit$833$779

usgovernmentspending.com now shows the new numbers for total FY 2018 total outlays and receipts on its Estimate vs. Actual page.

The Monthly Treasury Statement includes "Table 4: Receipts of the United States Government, September 2018 and Other Periods." This table of receipts by source is used for usgovernmentspending.com to post details of federal receipt actuals for FY 2018.

This FTS report on FY 18 actuals is a problem for usgovernmentspending.com because this site uses Historical Table 3.2--Outlays by Function and Subfunction from the Budget of the United States as its basic source for federal subfunction outlays. But the Monthly Treasury Statement only includes "Table 9. Summary of Receipts by Source, and Outlays by Function of the U.S. Government, September 2018 and Other Periods". Subfunction amounts don't get reported until the FY20 budget in February 2019. Until then usgovernmentspending.com estimates actual outlays by "subfunction" for FY 2018 by factoring subfunction budgeted amounts for FY18 by the ratio between relevant actual and budgeted "function" amounts where actual outlays by subfunction cannot be gleaned from the Monthly Treasury Statement.

Final detailed FY 2018 actuals will not appear on usgovernmentspending.com until the FY 2020 federal budget is published in February 2019 with the actual outlays for FY 2018 in Historical Table 3.2--Outlays by Function and Subfunction.

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