Tuesday, February 24, 2015

United States Debt By President

Updated March 2016

I haven't posted on the current debt situation in the United States for some time so I thought that it was time to revisit my debt-by-President information to give us a sense of how the United States became the world's largest debtor state.

For the purposes of this posting, I source the data from the TreasuryDirect website which provides the public with a year-by-year and month-by-month update of the debt position and debt activity.  I have gone back to the Kennedy Administration and have used the debt figures for the end of the month of January during each inauguration as a starting and ending point, except in the cases of the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon Administrations when I used the debt data from the end of their last month of service.  In all cases I have included both the external and intergovernmental debt in my calculations

I have made three calculations:

1.) the nominal growth of the federal debt during each President's tenure in the Oval Office.

2.) the percentage growth of the debt from the end of the month of each President's inauguration to the end of their final month in the Oval Office.

3.) the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of the federal debt during each President's tenure in the Oval Office which is calculated using this formula:

CAGR provides us with a measure that shows us the compounded average annual growth rate of the debt (in this case) over  all of the years that each President served .

Let's look at a graph from FRED which shows what has happened to the federal debt as a percentage of GDP since 1966:

As you can see, since the fourth quarter of 2012, for the most part, the federal debt has been in excess of 100 percent of GDP, up from 62.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2007 when the Great Recession was just beginning.

Now, let's look at some graphs that show what has happened to the federal debt under each of the last ten administrations, starting with a graph that shows the federal debt at the end of each President's term (excluding Barak Obama who still has nearly one year left in his second term):

It is rather interesting to note how the growth in the nominal level of the debt has accelerated, particularly since the Bush II Administration. 

Here is a bar graph which shows the nominal increase in the federal debt for each of the last ten Administrations:

In nominal terms the debt has grown (and will continue to grow) by the most under the current President.

Here is a bar graph which shows the percentage increase in the federal debt for each of the last ten Administrations:

By a very wide margin, the percentage growth in the federal debt was the highest under the Reagan Administration with the debt growing by 188.84 percent.  Under the Bush II Administration, the debt grew by 86 percent and under the current Obama Administration, the debt has grown by 79.6 percent, however, this will rise over the next two years of Barak Obama's presidency.

Lastly, here is a bar graph showing the compounded annual growth rate of the debt under each of the last ten Administrations:

Again, the Reagan Administration comes in first place with an annual debt growth rate of 14.18 percent, followed by the Ford Administration at 12.99 percent and the Bush I Administration at 11.48 percent.

Let's close by looking at one last statistic.  If we take the current federal debt of $19.093 trillion and divide it by 318,857,056 Americans, the per capita debt share of every American man, woman and child is:


To put this number into perspective, according to the 2013 American Community Survey, the median household income in the United States in 2013 was $52,250.

1 comment:

  1. I fully agree that we have a problem. At one time a billion dollars was a lot of money and it still is. Most people that haven't given it much thought might not think so considering how modern media and politicians throw the "B" word around. On several occasions I have heard both Washington politicians and the news media accidentally confuse a billion dollars with its much smaller sister the million marker.

    This drives me crazy. With a billion dollars being a thousand time larger this confusion is undefendable. The article below is a primmer on the ugly math of our debt delving into how much it cost each and every American when the government spends a billion dollar. Remember the deficit is set to soar in coming years.