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What is the Deficit as Percent of Federal Spending?

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 19.0 percent of federal spending.

This year, FY 2019, the federal government in its latest budget has estimated that the deficit will be 22.3 percent of federal spending.

 

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Federal

Recent US Federal Deficits as Percent of Federal Spending

Chart D.41f: Recent US Federal Deficits
as Pct Spend (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 5.9 percent of federal spending in 2007. But the recession that started late in 2006 drove deficits higher, with a deficit of nearly 40.2 percent of federal spending in FY 2009, driven mainly by bank bailouts under the TARP program.

After the Crash of 2008 the federal deficits started decreasing, getting below 20 percent of federal spending in FY 2013 and below 12 percent of federal spending in FY 2015, but increasing to 16.7 percent of federal spending in FY 2017.

Half a Century of US Federal Deficits as Percent of Federal Spending

Chart D.42f: Half a Century of US Federal Deficits

Betwen 1965 and 1985 the federal deficit generally increased, from 1.5 percent of federal spending in 1965 to 25.7 percent of federal spending in the aftermath of the 1980-81 recession. Deficits started down in the expansion of the mid to late 1980s but ballooned again in the 1990-91 recession.

In the 1990s, during the Clinton administration, deficits consistently declined year on year, from a deficit of 21 percent of federal spending in 1992 after the 1990-91 recession to a surplus of 13.2 percent federal spending 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 18 percent of federal spending in 2004. Deficits declined to 5.9 percent of federal spending in 2007 before ballooning to 40.2 percent of federal spending in 2009 in the downdraft of the Great Recession. Deficits declined to 11.9 percent of federal spending by 2015 and are expected to continue above 10 percent of federal spending through 2020.

US Federal Deficits in the 20th Century

Chart D.43f: 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 when the federal deficit peaked at 70 percent of federal spending. In the Great Depression and its aftermath the federal government ran deficits of about 40 percent of federal spending. But up until the Great Depression the federal government typically ran a large surplus during peacetime.

After World War II federal governments started routinely running deficits in peacetime. Deficits increased steadily from the 1950s through the early 1980s, hitting 20 percent of spending in the 1980s through the 1990-91 recession, and then declined rapidly for the remainder of the 1990s, actually hitting a surplus of about 10 percent of federal spending in 2000.

Federal deficits increased in the early 2000s, and went over 40 percent of federal spending in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008.

In the recovery from the Crash of 2008 deficits have slowly reduced to about 10 percent of federal spending.

US Federal Deficits since the Founding

Chart D.44f: 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 over 60 percent of federal spending at the end of the war of 1812, and ran deficits through the decade after the Panic of 1837 that culminated in a deficit of 50 percent of federal spending in the US - Mexican War of 1846-48. It ran huge deficits in the Civil War, with a deficit of about 90 percent of federal spending in 1863. The federal government ran a deficit in the depressed 1890s of about 20 percent of federal spending.

Otherwise, during peacetime in the 19th century, the federal government typically ran a substantial surplus: over 50 percent of federal spending in many years before 1840, and over 20 percent of federal spending in the 1870s and 1880s.

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 1950, 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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