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U.S. national debt tops $24 trillion for the 1st time

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File photo: U.S. Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. (Credit: AgnosticPreachersKid)

The public debt held by the United States has surpassed $24 trillion for the first time, nearly double when compared to a decade ago and up by one trillion in less than six months, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

The total public debt was $24,011,523,316,653.36 on Wednesday, of which $18 trillion is debt held by the public and the remaining $6 trillion are intergovernmental holdings. This is up by more than a trillion when compared to November 1, when the national debt reached $23 trillion.

The national debt nearly doubled during the presidency of Barack Obama, with a record deficit of $1.4 trillion in 2009, but the debt has continued to rise at an accelerating rate under President Donald Trump. The Republican overhaul of the U.S. tax code in December 2017 is forecast to raise the deficit by $1.8 trillion through 2027.

This year’s deficit is expected to be $1.1 trillion, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which released its estimate before the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. The projected deficit is forecast to rise from 4.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020 to 5.4 percent in 2030.

Other than a six-year period during and immediately after World War II, the deficit over the past century has never exceeded 4.0 percent for more than five consecutive years, according to CBO. During the past 50 years, deficits have averaged 1.5% of GDP when the economy was relatively strong.

History of the U.S. national debt

  • 1783: $43 million (the first public debt)
  • 1800: $82.9 million
  • 1835: $0
    The entire public debt was paid off under President Andrew Jackson.
  • 1845: $15.9 million
  • 1860: $64.8 million (before the Civil War)
  • 1865: $2.6 billion (after the Civil War)
  • 1893: $1.5 billion
  • 1914: $2.9 billion (before World War I)
  • 1919: $27.3 billion (after World War I)
  • 1930: $16.1 billion
  • 1939: $40.4 billion (before World War II)
  • 1946: $269.4 billion (after World War II)
  • 1963: $305.8 billion
  • 1975: $533.1 billion
  • 1982: $1 trillion
  • 1996: $5 trillion
  • 2008: $10 trillion
  • 2017: $20 trillion

The debt held by the public is expected to reach $27.3 trillion by the end of 2027, according to CBO. This does not include debt issued to government accounts, such as Social Security trust funds, because they don’t directly affect the economy and have no effect on the budget. Taken together, it would push the total debt well above $30 trillion by the end of 2027.

The U.S. federal debt held by the public as of January 2019 (Credit: CBO)
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