Or, more precisely, $30,642,820,000,000…Actually, it’s changing so fast that any number I put down will be too low. Search for “the national debt clock”.
The federal debt has grown from $20 trillion to $30 trillion in just five years!
It was $20 trillion in 2017. $22.7 trillion at the end of 2019. Then the covid-19 spending started. The first stimulus was arguably a good thing. The economy rebounded almost-immediately from a very deep and very short recession, and continued to grow rapidly. But that fall the President and the Speaker of the House bickered openly about which party would get the privilege of buying votes with the second stimulus program, and the answer was nobody. It was a smaller package, “just” $900 billion and it happened well after the election was over.
How big is $900 billion? It’s about the size of our annual spending on Medicare, and a bit smaller than our biggest spending program, Social Security. In 2019 the nation collected just $3.5 trillion in taxes; $3.7 trillion in 2020, and $3.9 trillion in 2021.
Just three months after those $600 second-package checks were mailed to voters, $1,400 checks were mailed to every person in any household earning less than $150,000–even if there were 10 children in the household. Smaller checks were sent to voters earning more than $150,000 but less than $160,000 … Giddy recipients didn’t realize that this was only $410 billion of the $1,900 billion blow-out. The legislation raised so little tax revenue that a voter in the younger half of the population (the people who will have to pay back the debt in the future) received $1,400 and took on more than $11,400 in debt each.
The really bad news is that, if you’re in that younger half of the population, your share of the $10 trillion that Congress has borrowed in your name in the last five years is … $59,171. No, you won’t have to actually pay the debt back. But you’ll be paying interest on it for the rest of your life.
And that’s the rest of the story. When interest rates were at all-time lows, politicians were able to delude themselves into forgetting about the interest that Congress has to pay each year on the debt. In 2020 Congress only had to pay $371 billion in debt, plus another $156 billion in pretend interest to the bonds “held in the vaults” of Social Security and Medicare (both programs will run out of money soon, if you choose to believe in the vault idea). So that was just half a trillion in interest, because interest rates were at all-time lows.
Since then interest rates have been rising, and today’s inflation rates suggest that they could double. The debt is up 50% and still growing, so we’re fast approaching the day when the interest on the debt will be $1,000,000,000,000. Every year. If we don’t balance the budget, the magic of compound interest will become an evil curse.