12 Scary Debt Facts for 2012

CBS MoneyWatch

As President Obama unveiled the 2013 fiscal year budget, the nation's financial situation came back into sharp focus. Experts say partisan gridlock in Washington means the budget will probably go nowhere.

Considering this is an election year, however, expect politicians to harp on facts, figures and terms that most Americans weren't taught in high school. To help out, it's time to dredge up lots of scary facts to make you pay attention.

Before we get going, a quick primer on the number TRILLION:

  • $1 trillion = $1,000 billion or $1,000,000,000,000 (that's 12 zeros)
  • How hard is it to spend a trillion dollars? If you spent one dollar every second, you would have spent a million dollars in 12 days. At that same rate, it would take you 32 years to spend a billion dollars. But it would take you more than 31,000 years to spend a trillion dollars.
  • And now, some scary facts about the debt and the deficit -- some basics:
  • Deficit = money government takes in -- money government spends
  • 2012 US deficit = $1.33 trillion
  • 2013 Proposed budget deficit = $901 billion
  • National debt = Total amount borrowed over time to fund the annual deficit
  • Current national debt = $15.3 trillion (or $49,030 per every man, woman and child in the US or $135,773 per taxpayer)

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OK, let's get started!

1. The U.S. national debt on Jan. 1, 1791, was just $75 million dollars. Today, the U.S. national debt rises by that amount about once an hour.

2. Our nation began its existence in debt after borrowing money to finance the Revolutionary War. President Andrew Jackson nearly eliminated the debt, calling it a "national curse." Jackson railed against borrowing, spending and even banks, for that matter, and he tried to eliminate all federal debt. By Jan. 1, 1835, under Jackson, the debt was just $33,733.

3. When World War II ended, the debt equaled 122 percent of GDP (GDP is a measure of the entire economy). In the 1950s and 1960s, the economy grew at an average rate of 4.3 percent a year and the debt gradually declined to 38 percent of GDP in 1970. This year, the Office of Budget and Management expects that the debt will equal nearly 100 percent of GDP.

4. Since 1938, the national debt has increased at an average annual rate of 8.5 percent. The only exceptions to the constant annual increase over the last 62 years were during the administrations of Clinton and Johnson. (Note that this is the rate of growth; the national debt still existed under both presidents.) During the Clinton presidency, debt growth was almost zero. Johnson averaged 3 percent growth of debt for the six years he served (1963-69).

5. When Ronald Reagan took office, the U.S. national debt was just under $1 trillion. When he left office, it was $2.6 trillion. During the eight Regan years, the US moved from being the world's largest international creditor to the largest debtor nation.

6. The U.S. national debt has more than doubled since the year 2000.

  • Under President Bush: At the end of calendar year 2000, the debt stood at $5.629 trillion. Eight years later, the federal debt stood at $9.986 trillion.
  • Under President Obama: The debt started at $9.986 trillion and escalated to $15.3 trillion, a 53 percent increase over three years.

7. FY 2013 budget projects a deficit of $901 billion in 2013, representing 5.5 percent of GDP, down from a deficit of $1.33 trillion in FY 2012, which was the fourth consecutive year of more than $1 trillion dollar deficits.

8. The U.S. national debt rises at an average of approximately $3.8 billion per day.

9. The US government now borrows approximately $5 billion every business day.

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10. A trillion $10 bills, if they were taped end to end, would wrap around the globe more than 380 times. That amount of money would still not be enough to pay off the U.S. national debt.

11. The debt ceiling is the maximum amount of debt that Congress allows for the government. The current debt ceiling is $16.394 trillion effective Jan. 30, 2012.

12. The U.S. government has to borrow 43 cents of every dollar that it currently spends, four times the rate in 1980.

You can track the national debt on a daily basis here.

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