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What is the Local Government Debt?

State and Local Debt: That’s the outstanding debt issued by states, local government, and special districts.

At the end of FY 2016, the latest year reported by the Census Bureau, the local government debt was $1.84 trillion.

At the end of FY 2018 the local government debt was “guesstimated” to be $1.9 trillion.

Also, see National Debt, Federal Debt, and Local Debt.



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Recent US Local Government Debt

Chart D.11l: Recent Local Government Debt

Chart D.12l: Recent Local Gov. Debt as Pct. GDP

Local government debt in 2005 was about $1.25 trillion, and was steadily increasing year on year. But the budget crisis of the Great Recession put the brakes on local governments, and since 2011 local debt has increased only modestly.

Viewed from a GDP perspective, local government debt started out at a little under 10 percent of GDP in 2005, and increased to 11.5 percent GDP in 2009 during the Great Recession. Since then local government debt has slowly decreased as a percent of GDP and is expected to be almost down to 10 percent GDP by 2016.

US Local Government Debt Since 1900

Chart D.13l: Local Government Debt in 20th Century

Local government debt began the 20th century at nearly 7 percent of GDP and, with a blip during World War I, climbed steadily for the next three decades, reaching 13.7 percent in 1929. Local debt exploded in the crisis of the Great Depression, reaching over 28 percent of GDP in 1933. In the next decade, local governments reduced debt radically, bottoming out at about 5 percent of GDP at the end of World War II.

In the post-war period local government debt doubled, reaching 10 perent of GDP in 1960. In the next decade and a half local government debt plateaued at just under 10 percent and then in 1976-80 declined to 7.3 percent of GDP. In the early 1980s local government debt began to increase again, breaching 9 percent in 1986, and then slowly increased through the 1990s and the 2000s, reaching 10.8 percent of GDP in 2008 before declining in the 2010s.

Federal, State, Local Debt in 20th Century

Chart D.14t: Total Government Debt
by Government Level

At the beginning of the 20th century debt was equally divided between federal and state and local debt, totaling less than 20 percent of GDP. After World War I, the total debt surged to 45% of GDP. But by the mid 1920s debt had declined to below 35 percent of GDP. Then came the Great Depression, boosting total public debt to 70 percent of GDP. World War II boosted federal debt to almost 122 percent of GDP in 1946, with state and local debt adding another 7 percent. For the next 35 years successive governments brought the debt below 50 percent of GDP, but President Reagan increased the federal debt up over 50 perent of GDP, and total debt towards 70 perent to win the Cold War. President Bush increased the debt to fight a war on terror and bail out the banks in the crisis of 2008.

State-by-State Comparison of State and Local Debt

Chart D.15c: State and Local Debt Comparison

The bubble chart shows total state and local debt for each state in dollars per capita compared against the Gross State Product (GSP) in dollars per capita. The chart shows that the overwhelming number of states show a correlation between state and local debt and GSP. Notable outliers are the natural resource states, Wyoming and North Dakota, on the low debt side and New York on the high debt side.

Suggested Video: All About Debt

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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

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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Gross Federal Debt

Debt: $21,818,103,811,690.47

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
Receipts $3,340$3,329
Deficit$833$779 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 to post details of federal receipt actuals for FY 2018.

This FTS report on FY 18 actuals is a problem for 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 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 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.

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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