Interactive Timeline: 150 Years of U.S. National Debt
Connect with us

Money

Timeline: 150 Years of U.S. National Debt

Published

on

This interactive visualization uses debt held by the public for its calculations, which excludes intragovernmental holdings.

Can I share this graphic?
Yes. Visualizations are free to share and post in their original form across the web—even for publishers. Please link back to this page and attribute Visual Capitalist.
When do I need a license?
Licenses are required for some commercial uses, translations, or layout modifications. You can even whitelabel our visualizations. Explore your options.
Interested in this piece?
Click here to license this visualization.

Looking Back at 150 Years of U.S. Debt

The total U.S. national debt reached an all-time high of $28 trillion* in March 2021, the largest amount ever recorded.

Recent increases to the debt have been fueled by massive fiscal stimulus bills like the CARES Act ($2.2 trillion in March 2020), the Consolidated Appropriations Act ($2.3 trillion in December 2020), and most recently, the American Rescue Plan ($1.9 trillion in March 2021).

To see how America’s debt has gotten to its current point, we’ve created an interactive timeline using data from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). It’s crucial to note that the data set uses U.S. national debt held by the public, which excludes intergovernmental holdings.

*Editor’s note: This top level figure includes intragovernmental holdings, or the roughly $6 trillion of debt owed within the government to itself.

What Influences U.S. Debt?

It’s worth pointing out that the national debt hasn’t always been this large.

Looking back 150 years, we can see that its size relative to GDP has fluctuated greatly, hitting multiple peaks and troughs. These movements generally correspond with events such as wars and recessions.

Decade Gross debt at start
of decade
(USD billions)
Avg. Debt Held By Public
Throughout Decade
(% of GDP)
Major Events
1900-4.8%-
1910-10.0%World War I
1920-22.9%The Great Depression
1930$1636.4%President Roosevelt's New Deal
1940$4075.1%World War II
1950$25756.8%Korean War
1960$28637.3%Vietnam War
1970$37126.1%Stagflation (inflation + high unemployment)
1980$90833.7%President Reagan's tax cuts
1990$3,23344.7%Gulf War
2000$5,67436.6%9/11 attacks & Global Financial Crisis
2010$13,56272.4%Debt ceiling is raised by Congress
2020$27,748105.6%COVID-19 pandemic
2030P-121.8%-
2040P-164.7%-
2050P-195.2%-

Source: CBO, The Balance

To gain further insight into the history of the U.S. national debt, let’s review some key economic events in America’s history.

The Great Depression

After its WWI victory, the U.S. enjoyed a period of post-war prosperity commonly referred to as the Roaring Twenties.

This led to the creation of a stock market bubble which would eventually burst in 1929, causing massive damage to the U.S. economy. The country’s GDP was cut in half (partially due to deflation), while the unemployment rate rose to 25%.

Government revenues dipped as a result, pushing debt held by the public as a % of GDP from its low of 15% in 1929, to a high of 44% in 1934.

World War II

WWII quickly brought the U.S. back to full employment, but it was an incredibly expensive endeavor. The total cost of the war is estimated to be over $4 trillion in today’s dollars.

To finance its efforts, the U.S. relied heavily on war bonds, a type of bond that is marketed to citizens during armed conflicts. These bonds were sold in various denominations ranging from $25-$10,000 and had a 2.9% interest rate compounded semiannually.

Over 85 million Americans purchased these bonds, helping the U.S. government to raise $186 billion (not adjusted for inflation). This pushed debt above 100% of GDP for the first time ever, but was also enough to cover 63% of the war’s total cost.

The Postwar Period

Following World War II, the U.S. experienced robust economic growth.

Despite involvement in the Korea and Vietnam wars, debt-to-GDP declined to a low of 23% in 1974—largely because these wars were financed by raising taxes rather than borrowing.

The economy eventually slowed in the early 1980s, prompting President Reagan to slash taxes on corporations and high earning individuals. Income taxes on the top bracket, for example, fell from 70% to 50%.

2008 Global Financial Crisis

The Global Financial Crisis served as a precursor for today’s debt landscape.

Interest rates were reduced to near-zero levels to speed up the economic recovery, enabling the government to borrow with relative ease. Rates remained at these suppressed levels from 2008 to 2015, and debt-to-GDP grew from 39% to 73%.

It’s important to note that even before 2008, the U.S. government had been consistently running annual budget deficits. This means that the government spends more than it earns each year through taxes.

The National Debt Today

The COVID-19 pandemic damaged many areas of the global economy, forcing governments to drastically increase their spending. At the same time, many central banks once again reduced interest rates to zero.

This has resulted in a growing snowball of government debt that shows little signs of shrinking, even though the worst of the pandemic is already behind us.

In the U.S., federal debt has reached or surpassed WWII levels. When excluding intragovernmental holdings, it now sits at 104% of GDP—and including those holdings, it sits at 128% of GDP. But while the debt is expected to grow even further, the cost of servicing this debt has actually decreased in recent years.

U.S. federal debt costs

This is because existing government bonds, which were originally issued at higher rates, are now maturing and being refinanced to take advantage of today’s lower borrowing costs.

The key takeaway from this is that the U.S. national debt will remain manageable for the foreseeable future. Longer term, however, interest expenses are expected to grow significantly—especially if interest rates begin to rise again.

Subscribe to Visual Capitalist

Click for Comments

Personal Finance

How Does Your Personality Type Affect Your Income?

Can your Myers–Briggs personality type impact how much you make? See for yourself with this breakdown of average income for all 16 personality types.

Published

on

How Does Your Personality Type Affect Your Income?

You’ve just finished giving a presentation at work, and an outspoken coworker challenges your ideas. Do you:

a) Engage in a friendly debate about the merits of each argument, or

b) Avoid a conflict by agreeing or changing the subject?

The way you approach this type of situation may influence how much money you earn.

Today’s infographic comes to us from Truity, and it outlines the potential relationship between personality type and income.

Through the Myers-Briggs Lens

The Myers-Briggs personality test serves as a robust framework for analyzing the connection between personality and income, in a way that is easily understood and familiar to many people.

The theory outlines four personality dimensions that are described using opposing traits.

  • Extraversion vs. Introversion: Extroverts gain energy by interacting with others, while introverts draw energy from spending time alone.
  • Sensing vs. Intuition: Sensors prefer concrete and factual information, while intuitive types use their imagination or wider patterns to interpret information.
  • Thinking vs. Feeling: Thinkers make rational decisions based on logic, while feelers make empathetic decisions considering the needs of others.
  • Judging vs. Perceiving: Judging types organize their life in a structured manner, while perceiving types are more flexible and spontaneous.

For example, someone who aligns with extraversion, sensing, thinking, and judging would be described as an ESTJ type.

The researchers surveyed over 72,000 people to measure these four personality preferences, as well as 23 unique facets of personality, income levels, and career-related data.

Traits With the Highest Earning Potential

Based on the above four dimensions, extroverts, sensors, thinkers, and judgers tend to be the most financially successful. Diving into specific personality characteristics, certain traits are more closely correlated with higher income.

Personality TypeAverage Income Advantage (Annual)Trait(s) Most Correlated With Income Advantage
Extroverts$9,347Expressive, Energetic, Prominent
Sensors$1,910Conceptual
Thinkers$8,411Challenging, Objective, Rational
Judgers$6,903Ambitious

For instance, extroverts are much more likely to have higher incomes if they are quick to share thoughts, have high energy, and like being in the public eye. Thinkers also score high on income potential, especially if they enjoy debates, make rational decisions, and moderate their emotions.

The Top Earners

Which personality types earn the highest incomes of all? Extroverted thinking types dominate the ranks again.

Myers-briggs personality highest earners

Source: Truity

The one exception is INTJs, with 10% earning an annual salary of $150K or more in their peak earning years.

Personality and the Gender Pay Gap

With all these factors in mind, the researchers analyzed whether personality differences would affect the gender pay gap.

When the average salaries were separated for men and women, the results were clear: men of almost all personality types earn more than the average income for the sample overall, while all but two personality types of women earned less than the average.

Myers briggs personality gender pay gap

Source: Truity

In fact, women with high-earning personality types still earn less than men who do not possess those traits. For example, extroverted women earn about $55,000 annually, while introverted men earn an average of over $64,000.

Maximizing Your Potential

Are the introverted personalities of the world doomed to lower salaries? Not necessarily—while personality does play a role, many other factors contribute to income levels:

  • Level of education
  • Years of experience
  • Local job market
  • Type of industry
  • The particular career

Not only that, anyone can work on the two specific personality traits most aligned with higher incomes: set ambitious goals, and face conflict head-on to ensure your voice is heard.

Continue Reading

Politics

Interactive Map: Tracking Global Hunger and Food Insecurity

Every day, hunger affects more than 700 million people. This live map from the UN highlights where hunger is hitting hardest around the world.

Published

on

The World Hunger Map

Interactive Map: Tracking Global Hunger and Food Insecurity

Hunger is still one the biggest—and most solvable—problems in the world.

Every day, more than 700 million people (8.8% of the world’s population) go to bed on an empty stomach, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

The WFP’s HungerMap LIVE displayed here tracks core indicators of acute hunger like household food consumption, livelihoods, child nutritional status, mortality, and access to clean water in order to rank countries.

The World Hunger Map

After sitting closer to 600 million from 2014 to 2019, the number of people in the world affected by hunger increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, 155 million people (2% of the world’s population) experienced acute hunger, requiring urgent assistance.

The Fight to Feed the World

The problem of global hunger isn’t new, and attempts to solve it have making headlines for decades.

On July 13, 1985, at Wembley Stadium in London, Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially opened Live Aid, a worldwide rock concert organized to raise money for the relief of famine-stricken Africans.

The event was followed by similar concerts at other arenas around the world, globally linked by satellite to more than a billion viewers in 110 nations, raising more than $125 million ($309 million in today’s dollars) in famine relief for Africa.

But 35+ years later, the continent still struggles. According to the UN, from 12 countries with the highest prevalence of insufficient food consumption in the world, nine are in Africa.

Country % Population Affected by HungerPopulation (millions)Region
Afghanistan 🇦🇫93%40.4Asia
Somalia 🇸🇴68%12.3Africa
Burkina Faso 🇧🇫61%19.8Africa
South Sudan 🇸🇸60%11.0Africa
Mali 🇲🇱60%19.1Africa
Sierra Leone 🇸🇱55%8.2Africa
Syria 🇸🇾55%18.0Middle East
Niger 🇳🇪55%22.4Africa
Lesotho 🇱🇸50%2.1Africa
Guinea 🇬🇳48%12.2Africa
Benin 🇧🇯47%11.5Africa
Yemen 🇾🇪44%30.0Middle East

Approximately 30 million people in Africa face the effects of severe food insecurity, including malnutrition, starvation, and poverty.

Wasted Leftovers

Although many of the reasons for the food crisis around the globe involve conflicts or environmental challenges, one of the big contributors is food waste.

According to the United Nations, one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally. This amounts to about 1.3 billion tons of wasted food per year, worth approximately $1 trillion.

All the food produced but never eaten would be sufficient to feed two billion people. That’s more than twice the number of undernourished people across the globe. Consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa each year.

Solving Global Hunger

While many people may not be “hungry” in the sense that they are suffering physical discomfort, they may still be food insecure, lacking regular access to enough safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development.

Estimates of how much money it would take to end world hunger range from $7 billion to $265 billion per year.

But to tackle the problem, investments must be utilized in the right places. Specialists say that governments and organizations need to provide food and humanitarian relief to the most at-risk regions, increase agricultural productivity, and invest in more efficient supply chains.

Continue Reading

Subscribe

Popular