National Debt Clock | Peter G. Peterson Foundation

WHAT IS THE NATIONAL DEBT TODAY?

$27,181,420,858,237
That's
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$82,261
for every single person in America.

WHY IS THE NATIONAL DEBT SO HIGH?

America's growing debt is the result of simple math — each year, there is a mismatch between spending and revenues.

When the federal government spends more than it takes in, we have to borrow money to cover that annual deficit. And each year’s deficit adds to our growing national debt.

Historically, our largest deficits were caused by increased spending around national emergencies like major wars or the Great Depression.

Today, our deficits are caused mainly by predictable structural factors: our aging baby-boom generation, rising healthcare costs, and a tax system that does not bring in enough money to pay for what the government has promised its citizens.

The coronavirus crisis has accelerated an already unsustainable fiscal trajectory, both because of its devastating effect on the economy and the necessary legislative response. Once we have emerged from the pandemic, it will be critical for America’s leaders to address our rising debt, and its structural factors, which are described below.

OUR DEBT OVER TIME
Debt Held by the Public (% of GDP)

SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office, The 2020 Long-Term Budget Outlook, September 2020.

THREE MAJOR DRIVERS OF OUR GROWING NATIONAL DEBT

1

DEMOGRAPHICS

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America is undergoing significant demographic change. Our society is aging as the large baby-boom generation begins to retire — 10,000 will turn 65 every day for the next 17 years. Moreover, people are expected to live longer, on average. That is great news, but it means that we must prepare for the financial needs of longer retirement.

These huge demographic trends put increasing pressure on the federal budget — and in particular on vital programs that serve older and vulnerable Americans like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

PROJECTED SENIOR POPULATION (65+)

SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau, National Intercensal Estimates; 2016 Population Estimates, June 2017; and 2017 National Population Projections, September 2018.

2

RISING HEALTHCARE COSTS

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In many ways, healthcare is the most important issue for our nation’s fiscal and economic future. It represents nearly one-fifth of our entire economy, and it’s the second fastest-growing part of the budget.

The U.S. healthcare system is the most expensive in the world, but we don’t really get what we pay for. We spend nearly three times as much on healthcare as other advanced nations, but our system does not provide better overall health outcomes. Improving the performance of the U.S. healthcare system will not only improve Americans’ lives, it will help stabilize our fiscal and economic outlook.

HEALTHCARE COSTS AROUND THE WORLD
Average Healthcare Costs per Person in 2019

SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD Health Statistics 2020, July 2020.

NOTES: Data are for 2019. Chart uses purchasing power parities to convert data into U.S. dollars. OECD average excludes the United States.

Learn more about the U.S. healthcare system.

3

INADEQUATE REVENUES

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It would be one thing if our tax code was designed to fund all the promises we’re making. But it’s not.

The U.S. tax system does not generate enough revenues to cover the spending policymakers have enacted. This rapidly growing imbalance between revenues and spending leads to higher and higher annual deficits, and the result is an increasing national debt balance.

REVENUES VS. SPENDING
2019 Federal Revenues and Spending

SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office, An Update to the Budget Outlook: 2020 to 2030, September 2020.

WHAT IS THE NATIONAL DEBT COSTING US?

The interest adds up fast.

As the debt grows, so does the interest we pay.

Similar to a home or car loan, interest payments represent the price we pay to borrow money. As we borrow more and more, federal interest costs rise and compound. Rapidly growing interest payments are a burden that hinders our future economy.

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EVERY DAY, WE SPEND NEARLY
$1 BILLION
ON INTEREST

Interest is the fastest growing part of the federal budget.

SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office, An Update to the Budget Outlook: 2020 to 2030, September 2020.

In ten years, our interest will double from where it is today.

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SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office, An Update to the Budget Outlook: 2020 to 2030, September 2020.

WHY DOES THE NATIONAL DEBT MATTER?

This is about our future.

What makes America strong is our willingness to build and leave a better future for the next generation. Unfortunately, our growing debt is doing the opposite.

America faces many challenges including rising inequality, unaffordable healthcare, a changing climate, failing education, crumbling infrastructure, and unpredictable security threats. To address these challenges we will need significant resources. Every dollar that goes toward interest payments means less resources available to build a stronger, more resilient future.

Being irresponsible with our budget is simply not fair to our kids and grandkids, who will inherit this debt.

RISING INTEREST IN THE BUDGET
Budget Categories (Billions of Dollars), 2021 to 2030

SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office, An Update to the Budget Outlook: 2020 to 2030, September 2020.

NOTES: Discretionary spending is the budget authority that is provided and controlled by appropriation acts and the outlays that result from that budget authority. Discretionary spending is often broken down further into defense and nondefense programs.

Mandatory spending is the budget authority provided by laws other than appropriation acts and the outlays that result from that budget authority. Mandatory spending includes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and spending to subsidize health insurance purchased through the marketplaces established under the Affordable Care Act and related spending. “Other mandatory” is the remainder of mandatory spending — it includes items such as income security programs and federal civilian employee retirement.

Medicare spending is net of premiums and payments from the states.

Learn more about how interest payments affect our fiscal and economic situation.

The vast majority of Americans believe that addressing our debt should be a priority.

81% of voters, say they want the president and Congress to spend more time addressing the debt, and 75% say their level of concern has increased over the last few years.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

We all have a stake in America’s future. Let your lawmakers know that you care about managing our high and rising national debt.