Monday, January 21, 2013

Debt and How The Obama Administration Measures Up

Updated April 23, 2014

Once again, I thought that it was time to examine the debt incurred by the United States federal government over the past five decades, particularly in light of the fact that yet another debt ceiling is approaching, this time, a $17.25 trillion headache.  I looked back over the past 52 years at the debt issues that faced the last 10 administrations.  For my source material, I took data from the Treasury Direct website and used their very handy monthly search function to examine the debt history for the years and months in question.  To ensure that you understand how I used the numbers, I have taken the debt figures for the end of the month of January or, in the case of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, the end of the month of their last month of service.

Here's the chart showing the Presidents in chronological order with the debt (all debt figures in billions of dollars) at the beginning of each President's term, the debt at the end of the term, the amount in nominal dollars by which the debt grew, the total percentage that debt grew over the President's full term and the length of the President's term (in years and months expressed as a decimal):

And yes, I realize that the current debt level is distorted because the debt has actually exceeded the debt ceiling.  You’ll notice that I have used a somewhat less familiar accounting term, the compound annual growth rate as shown in this formula:

Now, let’s use the compound annual growth rate and put the Presidents in order from least to greatest CAGR:

Lastly, here is the same data but placed in order of the size of percentage increase in debt from least to greatest:

As it stands now, the Obama Administration has, by a relatively wide margin, the highest nominal debt increase with the debt rising by $6.619 trillion in five years and three months.  This compares to “only” $4.916 trillion for the Bush II administration over an eight year period.  As I’ve noted before, first place overall for the highest percentage and compound annual growth rate for the debt goes to President Reagan who, in his two terms saw the debt rise by a whopping 189 percent, levels which have not even been approached by more recent Administrations.

Now, let's put all of this into perspective.  With an estimated 316,700,000 Americans of all ages, the  per capita debt share for each man, woman and child is:


In the last year of President Obama's first term, the median household income in the United States was $51,017 according to the Census Bureau.

That puts things into perspective, doesn't it?


  1. Numbers like these explain why the Republicans have been freaked out about the economic situation of the country. (Of course their steadfast refusal to raise taxes seems inexplicable.) I do wonder though if the current situation is like the snowball rolling down the hill. Now it's as big as a boulder and its sheer size and weight means it's picking up speed and force. Never mind Obama, will anybody, even the Almighty Himself, be able to get it under control?

  2. Not unless the world's bond markets force them to and, even then, like you state, the momentum of the rolling snowball will be hard to slow.

  3. Great information.

  4. i think your numbers are not totally accurate as you must do it from a president's first full fiscal year