From the end of 2008 to 2019, the amount of federal debt held by the public nearly tripled. This report describes federal debt, various ways to measure it, CBO’s projections for the coming decade, and the consequences of its growth.
During the past decade, the federal government’s debt increased at a faster rate than at any time since the end of World War II, outstripping economic growth over that period. At the end of 2019, federal debt was higher than at any other time since just after the war.
This report presents CBO’s analysis of federal debt, ways to measure it, and the consequences of its growth.
Debt held by the public, which indicates the extent to which federal borrowing affects the availability of private funds for other borrowers, is the measure of debt CBO uses most often in its reports on the budget.
At $16.8 trillion, debt held by the public at the end of 2019 was equal to 79 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), far greater than the average debt for the past 50 years. CBO projects that if current laws generally remained unchanged, that debt would increase to $31.4 trillion, or 98 percent of GDP, by 2030. Such high and rising debt could significantly affect the U.S. economy and the federal budget.
Debt held by the public net of financial assets, gross debt, and debt subject to limit are other measures of federal debt.