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U.S. Debt: Visualizing the $31.4 Trillion Owed in 2023

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The size of U.S. Debt in 2023 visualized using $1 bills

U.S. Debt: Visualizing the $31.4 Trillion Owed in 2023

Can you picture what $31.4 trillion looks like?

The enormity of U.S. government debt is hard for the average person to wrap their head around. For instance, compared to the median U.S. mortgage, the current level of federal debt is 230 million times larger.

In this graphic, Julie Peasley shows how many one-dollar bills it would take to stack up to the total U.S. debt of $31.4 trillion.

How Did U.S. Debt Get So High?

U.S. national debt is how much money the federal government owes to creditors. When the government spends more than it earns, it has a budget deficit and must issue debt in the form of Treasury securities.

The U.S. has run a deficit for the last 20 years, substantially increasing the national debt. In fact, according to the Department of the Treasury, the current debt is $31.4 trillion.

Stacked up in one-dollar bills, the U.S. debt would be equivalent to almost eight of Chicago’s 110-story Willis Tower.

YearOutstanding DebtYear-Over-Year Increase
2023*$31.4T2%
2022$30.9T9%
2021$28.4T6%
2020$26.9T19%
2019$22.7T6%
2018$21.5T6%
2017$20.2T3%
2016$19.6T8%
2015$18.2T2%
2014$17.8T6%
2013$16.7T4%
2012$16.1T9%
2011$14.8T9%
2010$13.6T14%
2009$11.9T19%
2008$10.0T11%
2007$9.0T6%
2006$8.5T7%
2005$7.9T8%
2004$7.4T9%
2003$6.8T9%
2002$6.2T7%
2001$5.8T2%
2000$5.7T0%

Source: Fiscal Data. Debt for 2023 is as of January, with the year-over-year increase reflecting the growth from October 2022 to January 2023. October is the start of the fiscal year for the U.S. government. Debt includes both debt held by the public and intragovernmental holdings.

The last time the government had a surplus was in 2001, when debt rose only 2% due to interest costs. Since then, the largest jumps in U.S. debt have been during the Global Financial Crisis—which saw three straight years of double-digit growth rates—and in 2020 due to trillions of dollars of COVID-19 stimulus.

U.S. federal debt rises during recessions because government revenue, primarily composed of taxes, decreases. At the same time, the government increases spending to help stimulate an economic recovery.

And in today’s case, the U.S. is facing additional financial issues. As the country’s senior population grows and people live longer, this puts pressure on programs that serve older Americans such as Social Security. Healthcare is becoming more expensive and is the second-fastest growing part of the U.S. budget.

The Pros and Cons of Debt

U.S. debt helps fund critical programs for Americans, including retirement and disability benefits, healthcare, economic security, and national defense.

As one example of the impact of these programs, income security nearly halved the percent of the population living below the poverty line in 2019 from 22.8% to 12.2%.

Of course, U.S. debt also comes with challenges. A chief concern is the ability to pay the interest costs on U.S. debt, especially as interest rates rise.

Before rate hikes began, interest costs amounted to 6% of the U.S. budget in the 2021 fiscal year. Fast forward to December 2022, and interest costs amounted to 15% of total government spending since the start of the fiscal year in October.

Addressing the Problem

In January 2023, the U.S. hit its debt ceiling, also known as its borrowing limit. While some countries tie their debt to GDP, the U.S. sets an exact limit in dollar terms.

The government would run out of money to pay its debts this summer if the ceiling is not raised, though policymakers have historically agreed to debt ceiling increases in the past to avoid a default. In 2011, the U.S. narrowly avoided default due to a last-minute debt ceiling negotiation and the country’s credit rating was downgraded as a result.

Tackling U.S. debt is simple in theory: raise taxes or the debt limit, reduce spending, or a combination of all three. However, it’s much more difficult in practice. Which taxes should be raised? Which programs should be cut? What happens the next time the debt limit is reached?

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This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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The Wealthiest People in the World, Outside of America

This graphic shows the wealthiest people in the world that live in countries either than America, from luxury moguls to India’s titans.

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The Wealthiest People in the World, Outside of America

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Today, nine of the top 10 wealthiest people in the world are American, largely due to fortunes in big tech—but looking beyond U.S. borders tells a different story.

In Asia, people in the highest echelons of wealth are energy and industrial titans, while the richest in Europe run luxury conglomerates and major consumer firms. Many of these companies are well known globally, and several are only known within their region.

This graphic shows the richest people that live outside of America, based on data from Bloomberg.

The World’s Richest: A Global Perspective

Here are the wealthiest non-American people in the world as of January 2024:

RankNameCountryNet Worth
Jan 2024
1Bernard Arnault🇫🇷 France$183B
2Mukesh Ambani🇮🇳 India$108B
3Carlos Slim🇲🇽 Mexico$101B
4Françoise Bettencourt Meyers🇫🇷 France$97B
5Gautam Adani🇮🇳 India$96B
6Amancio Ortega🇪🇸 Spain$85B
7Zhong Shanshan🇨🇳 China$62B
8Gerard Wertheimer🇫🇷 France$47B

France’s Bernard Arnault, with a net worth of $183 billion, is the world’s richest person thanks to the success of LVMH, the luxury conglomerate he runs.

With brands including Louis Vuitton, Fendi, and Christian Dior, LVMH is among the largest public companies in Europe, reaching a $444 billion valuation in 2024. Last year, the company witnessed record revenues driven by sales in its fashion and leather divisions.

Latin America’s richest person is Carlos Slim, with a fortune of $101 billion. Slim’s net worth is equal to nearly 8% of Mexico’s GDP. His wealth is largely derived from his ownership of América Móvil, Latin America’s largest mobile-phone operator, as well as his conglomerate, Grupo Carso.

The world’s richest woman is Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, also from France. According to Bloomberg, Bettencourt Meyers’ controls one-third of L’Oreal, and is the chairwoman of her family’s private equity firm, Tethys Investments.

As China’s richest person, Zhong Shanshan is chairman of bottled water company, Nongfu Spring. The company is listed on the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong, where it raised $1.1 billion from its 2020 IPO. He is also involved with Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise, a producer of vaccines.

While the richest people in America are heavily concentrated in tech, not one on this list derives the majority of their wealth from the sector, illustrating a clear departure from this trend.

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