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What is the Deficit?

Budget Deficit: The amount by which the government's total budget outlays exceeds its total receipts for a fiscal year. US Senate Budget Committee

Or, approximately, the federal deficit is the amount by which the federal debt increases in a single year. See Federal Debt.

 

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Recent Federal Budget Deficits

Fiscal Year Federal OutlaysFederal ReceiptsBudget Deficit
2015$3.69 trillion$3.25 trillion$0.44 trillion
2016$3.85 trillion$3.27 trillion$0.59 trillion
2017$4.15 trillion$3.64 trillion$0.50 trillion
2018$4.35 trillion$3.90 trillion$0.62 trillion

Although the federal budget deficit is the amount each year by which federal outlays in the federal budget exceed federal receipts, the gross federal debt increases each year by substantially more than the amount of the deficit each year. That is because a substantial amount of federal borrowing is not counted in the budget. See here.

Federal Deficit Analysis  

 
Federal

Recent US Federal Deficits by Year

Chart D.01f: Recent US Federal Deficits
(click chart to see the numbers)

Federal Deficits were declining in the mid 2000s as the nation climbed out of the 2000-02 recession. But the recession that started late in 2006 drove deficits higher, with a deficit in FY2009 driven up by over $700 billion in bank bailouts under the TARP program.

After the Crash of 2008 the federal deficits did not go below $1 trillion until FY2013.

Budgeted US Federal Deficits

Chart D.02f: Budgeted US Federal Deficits

The FY2017 federal budget estimates budget deficits out to 2021. It forecasts moderate deficits at about $500 billion per year.

But there’s more

The federal debt increases each year by more than the deficit. For FY 2016 the federal budget estimates that the federal debt will increase by about $1 trillion. That’s about $250 billion more than the official “deficit.” See Federal Debt.

But there’s more. There is the increase in debt from the “agency debt” of government-sponsored enterprises. And there is the implied deficit from unfunded liabilities like Social Security and Medicare. See chart of latest Long-term Budget Outlook from the Congressional Budget Office.

Now you are ready to explore. Click here for the basics on the national debt and deficits. Click here for a look at overall government spending; click here for a look at the federal budget by function. And there is no better place to get up to speed than Spending 101’s online course on Federal Debt.

US Federal Deficits in the 20th Century

Chart D.03f: Federal Deficit in 20th Century

The two major peaks of the federal deficit in the 20th century occurred during World War I and World War II.

Deficits increased steadily from the 1960s through the early 1990s, and then declined rapidly for the remainder of the 1990s.

Federal deficits increased in the early 2000s, and went over 10 percent of GDP in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008.

In the recovery from the Crash of 2008 deficits have slowly reduced to 3 percent of GDP.

US Federal Deficits since the Founding

Chart D.04f: Federal Deficit since Founding

The United States government did not always run a deficit. In the 19th century the federal government typically only ran deficits during wartime or during financial crises. The government ran a deficit of 2 percent of GDP at the end of the war of 1812, and through the decade after the Panic of 1837 and culminating in the US - Mexican War of 1846-48. It ran a deficit of over 7 percent of GDP in the Civil War; and ran a deficit in the depressed 1890s.
In the 20th century the US ran a defict during World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and in almost all years since 1960, during peace and war.

Top Debt Requests:

Find DEFICIT stats and history.

US BUDGET overview and pie chart.

Find NATIONAL DEBT today.

See FEDERAL BUDGET breakdown and estimated vs. actual.

See BAR CHARTS of debt, debt.

Check STATE debt: CA NY TX FL and compare.

See DEBT ANALYSIS briefing.

See DEBT HISTORY briefing.

Take a COURSE at Spending 101.

Make your own CUSTOM CHART.

Debt Data Sources

Debt data is from official government sources.

Gross Domestic Product data comes from US Bureau of Economic Analysis and measuringworth.com.

Detailed table of debt data sources here.

Federal debt data begins in 1792.

State and local debt data begins in 1890.

State and local debt data for individual states begins in 1957.

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Next Data Update

> Federal Budget FY16

> data update schedule.

Data Sources for 2012_2021:

Sources for 2012:

GDP, GO: GDP, GO Sources
Federal: Fed. Budget: Hist. Tables 3.2, 5.1, 7.1
State and Local: State and Local Gov. Finances
'Guesstimated' by projecting the latest change in reported spending forward to future years

Sources for 2021:

GDP, GO: GDP, GO Sources
Federal: Fed. Budget: Hist. Tables 3.2, 5.1, 7.1
State and Local: State and Local Gov. Finances
'Guesstimated' by projecting the latest change in reported spending forward to future years

> data sources for other years
> data update schedule.

The Feds Borrow More Than The "Deficit"

People naturally assume that the annual Deficit is the total that the Federal government borrows each year. Actually this is not so. The Deficit is simply the difference between Federal Outlays and Federal Receipts. Usually, the Feds borrow a lot more than the official Deficit.

Like below, in $ billion:

YearGross
Debt
Debt
Increase
Federal
Deficit
Other
Borrow
2000562924-236259
20057905551318232
20101352916531294359
20111476412351300-64
20121605112871087200
201316719669680-11
2014177951075485590
201518120326438-113
2016195371417587830

We have provided the difference between the Debt increase and the Deficit for each year under "Other Borrowings" on the Spending Details page. To Recap:

Other Borrowings = (Increase in Federal Debt) - (Official Deficit)

Spend links

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