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Debt and Deficit Facts

Right now the Gross Federal Debt is $21,954,898,759,285.36.

At the end of FY 2018 the debt was $21.46 trillion, or 107.1% GDP.
The highest federal debt in US history was 119.0% GDP in 1946 just after World War II.

At the end of FY 2018 the federal deficit was $779 billion, or 3.9% GDP.
The highest federal deficit in US history was 29.0% GDP in 1943 in World War II.

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US Government Debt
in Recent Decades

Government debt has been getting bigger.

Debt Steadily Increasing

Government debt in the United States has steadily increased from $2 trillion in the mid 1980s to over $19 trillion today. But as a percent of GDP it has grown from 55 percent to over 100 percent of GDP today.

Chart 4.11: Government Debt in dollars

Government debt, including gross federal, state, and local, reached $3 trillion in 1987, and then breached $4 trillion in the recession year of 1990. In the 1990s debt reached $5 trillion in 1992, and $7 trillion at the peak of the business cycle in 2000. Debt breached $10 trillion in 2006 and $15 trillion in 2010. Gross debt, including all levels of government, exceeded $20 trillion in 2014 and is expected to break $25 trillion in 2019.

Chart 4.12: Government Debt as Percent of GDP

Viewed as a percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) government debt shows a different aspect. At 55 percent of GDP in 1985, debt increased as a percent of GDP until the mid 1990s when it peaked at 78.7 percent of GDP in 1995. Then a steady decline in debt as a percent of GDP set in for the rest of the 1990s, declining to 68.8 percent of GDP in 2000. But debt resumed a climb in the 2000s reaching 78 percent of GDP at the peak of the business cycle in 2007.

In the Crash of 2008 government debt increased sharply to bail out the banks and to provide “stimulus” to the economy. Debt reached 101 percent of GDP in 2009, and is estimated at 122 percent GDP in 2015. But debt is expected to decline slightly as a percent of GDP through the end of the 2010s.

Recent Debt by Government Level

Federal debt has increased sharply after the Crash of 2008.

Chart 4.13: Government Debt by Level

Federal debt stood at 42 percent of GDP in 1985. State government debt was 4.9 percent of GDP and local debt was 8.1 percent of GDP. By the mid 1990s federal debt had increased to 64 percent of GDP. State debt had increased to 5.6 percent of GDP and local debt had increased to 9.1 percent of GDP.

By 2000 federal debt had decreased to 55 percent of GDP, state debt was essentially level at 5.3 percent of GDP and local debt declined modestly to 8.8 percent of GDP. In the 2000s debt started to climb again, with federal debt reaching 62 percent of GDP by 2007. State debt was 6.5 percent of GDP and local debt was 10.2 percent of GDP in 2007.

Chart Key:
- Federal debt
- Local debt
- State debt

Then came the Crash of 2008. By 2011 federal debt had exploded to 95 percent of GDP, state debt stood at 7.3 percent of GDP and local debt increased modestly to 11.5 percent of GDP.

In 2015, federal debt stands at 100.5 percent of GDP, state debt at 6.4 percent of GDP, and local debt at 10.1 percent of GDP.

Gross vs. Net Debt

The difference between gross and net is the amount of debt held by the federal government

Chart 4.14: Recent Federal Debt by Component

As reported by the federal government in Historical Table 7.1 of the federal budget, the gross debt of the general government is composed of three items: debt held by the Federal Reserve System and therefore monetized, debt owed to government agencies (e.g., Social Security), and debt held by the public, including foreign governments.

In 1990, the Federal Reserve System held debt amounting to 3.9 percent of GDP. Federal debt held by the federal government amounted to 13.3 percent of GDP and debt held by the public amounted to 36.4 percent of GDP.

Chart Key:
- Debt held by public
- Debt held by federal gov.
- Debt held by Federal Reserve

Federal debt monetized by the Federal Reserve System increased to over 5 percent of GDP in 1998 and slowly increased, reaching 5.7 percent of GDP before declining in 2008 to 3.4 percent of GDP. In 2009, after the Crash of 2008, the debt held by the Federal Reserve System had increased back to 5.5 percent, and then, following a policy of “quantitative easing” and “zero interest rates,” increased to 14.1 percent of GDP in 2014. It declined to 13.4 percent GDP by 2016.

Federal debt held by the government, principally IOUs to the Social Security system, has climbed steadily, 15 percent of GDP in 1992, and 20 percent in 1999. Debt held by the government exceeded 25 percent of GDP in 2005 and 30 percent of GDP in 2009. Debt held by the government is expected to decline very slightly in the future as a percent of GDP.

Federal debt held by the public (excluding the Federal Reserve System) amounted to 36.4 percent of GDP in 1990. It reached 41 percent of GDP in 1992 and peaked at 42.5 percent of GDP in 1993. Debt held by the public declined to 28.2 percent of GDP by 2000 before settling at about 29 percent of GDP till 2007. with the Crash of 2008 debt held by the public started increasing sharply, reaching 59.7 percent of GDP by 2012, and is budgeted to exceed 64 percent GDP in 2017.

Recent Interest Payments

Chart 4.15: Recent Interest Payments

The burden of interest rates has declined in recent decades. Running at a little under 4 percent of GDP in the mid 1980s, the cost of interest payments began an historic decline that extended throughout the boom of the late 1990s and the recession of 2000-01. The cost of interest payments increased in the recovery of the mid 2000s, then declined below 2 percent of GDP after the Crash of 2008.

Interest payments as a percent of GDP are expected to increase in the future, as the Federal Reserve unwinds its current “quantitative easing” and “zero interest rate policy.”


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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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Next Data Update

> Federal Budget FY18

> data update schedule.

Data Source

Source: CBO Long-Term Budget Outlook .

> data sources for other years
> data update schedule.

US, State Population Update for 2018

On December 7, 2018 the US Census Bureau released its US national and state population estimates for July 1, 2018.  On January 7, 2019 updated its US and state population data as follows:
  • We updated 2010-2018 population data for US and states using data from US Census Bureau Population Estimates: vintage 2018 in file nst-est2018-01.xlsx.
  • We projected 2019 thru 2024 for the states assuming population rate change for 2017-18.
  • We updated 2019 thru 2024 for US only using the percentage projections from US Census Bureau 2017 National Population Projections in file np2017-t1.xlsx. uses population data in computing per capita spending and revenue data. You can see per capita spending data in a chart here, and in a table of spending here.

You can check the data update schedule here.

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Christopher Chantrill.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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