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What is the Total National Debt?

National Debt: Strictly speaking, the US national debt is the total of federal, state, and local debt. But people often talk about the debt of the federal government as the “national debt.”

At the end of FY 2015 the US national debt was “guesstimated” to be $21.7 trillion, including federal $18.2 trillion, state $1.15 trillion, and local $1.9 trillion.

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

Recent US Total National Debt

Chart D.11t: Recent US National Debt

Chart D.12t: Recent US National Debt as Percent GDP

Public Debt in the United States is principally the debt of the federal government.

In 2005 federal debt was about 60 percent of GDP, state government debt was about 6 percent of GDP and local government debt was about 10 percent of GDP.

But in the last ten years the federal debt has almost doubled to 103 percent GDP, while state government debt has stayed at a little over 6 percent GDP and local government debt has increased a little to 10.6 percent GDP.

US Total Debt Since 1900

Chart D.13t: Total National Debt in 20th Century

Government debt began the 20th century at less than 20 percent of GDP. It jerked above 45 percent as a result of World War I and above 70 percent in the depths of the Great Depression. Debt has breached 100 percent of GDP twice since 1900: during World War II and in the aftermath of the Crash of 2008.

Federal, State, Local Debt in 20th Century

Chart D.14t: Total National 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.

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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 1890.

State and local debt data for individual states begins in 1957.

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Gross Federal Debt

Debt: $19,552,500,003,000

Data Sources for 2011_2021:

Sources for 2011:

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

Sources for 2021:

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.

Gross State Product Update for 2015

The US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released its Gross State Product (GSP) data for 2015 on June 14, 2016.

Usgovernmentspending.com has updated its individual state GSPs for 2015 and projected nominal and real GSP through 2020 for each state using the projected national GDP numbers from Table 10.1 in the Historical Tables for the Federal FY2016 Budget and the historical GDP data series from the BEA as a baseline.

As before we have projected individual state GSPs out to 2021 by applying a factor to reflect each state's deviation from the national growth rate. (E.g. In 2014 the national real GDP expanded by 2.4 percent. But North Dakota grew by 6.3 percent, a deviation of nearly 4 percent. The deviation is reduced by 40 percent for each year after 2014, making the assumption that each state will slowly revert to the national norm.)

Usgovernmentspending.com displays individual state data going back to 1957, but BEA has nominal GSP data going back to only 1963, and real GSP data going back to 1987.  Also the 1987-1997 real GSP data is in 1997 dollars, not 2009 dollars like the 1997-present data, and the pre-1997 data is based on a different model than post 1997 data.  For the pre-1997 data we have factored it to remove any "bumps" over the 1997 transition.

Because usgovernmentspending.com needs GSP data to provide e.g., spending as a percent of GDP, we have extended the two BEA GSP data series back to 1957.  We have assumed that the rate of change of GSP prior to 1963 is the same as the national GDP and we have assumed that the rate of change of real GSP prior to 1987 is the same as the nation real GDP growth rate.

Click here to view a complete list of US states and their 2015 GSP growth rates.

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Christopher Chantrill.

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