The Debt Bomb

February 6, 2013

A detailed look at government debt.
-John M. Roberts, director of research, Hilliard Lyons


The debt limit political imbroglio and debates regarding spending and tax issues have led to more discussions about the level of our government's sovereign debt. The current level of sovereign debt is not a number we would call prone to being easily understood -- over $16.4 trillion, or 164 followed by eleven zeroes.


What may make the number more meaningful for the average person is looking at that number on a per capita basis. At the start of 2012, the US census bureau pegged the US population at 312.8 million individuals. The population may have increased slightly since then, though our level of sovereign debt is increasing even more quickly, and essentially each individual in the US owes $52,430.


A family of four's individual portion of sovereign debt amounts, astoundingly, to nearly $210,000! Consider this is more than the median price of a house and the immensity of our debt comes more into focus. Also consider the median net worth of the average family is about $110,000 and we can observe that more than half the families in the US would be considered to be underwater if the debt were divided equally. Fortunately, the average net worth amounts to just over $500,000 per family, but even at that level, our government debt currently amounts to more than 40% of average family's net worth.


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