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What is the Local Government Debt?

State and Local Debt: That’s the outstanding debt issued by states, local government, and special districts.

At the end of FY 2016 the local government debt was “guesstimated” to be $1.86 trillion.

Also, see National Debt, Federal Debt, and Local Debt.

Recent US Local Government Debt

Chart D.11l: Recent Local Government Debt

Chart D.12l: Recent Local Gov. Debt as Pct. GDP

Local government debt in 2005 was about $1.25 trillion, and was steadily increasing year on year. But the budget crisis of the Great Recession put the brakes on local governments, and since 2011 local debt has increased only modestly.

Viewed from a GDP perspective, local government debt started out at a little under 10 percent of GDP in 2005, and increased to 11.5 percent GDP in 2009 during the Great Recession. Since then local government debt has slowly decreased as a percent of GDP and is expected to be almost down to 10.5 percent GDP by 2015.

US Local Government Debt Since 1900

Chart D.13l: Local Government Debt in 20th Century

Local government debt began the 20th century at nearly 7 percent of GDP and, with a blip during World War I, climbed steadily for the next three decades, reaching 13.7 percent in 1929. Local debt exploded in the crisis of the Great Depression, reaching over 28 percent of GDP in 1933. In the next decade, local governments reduced debt radically, bottoming out at about 5 percent of GDP at the end of World War II.

In the post-war period local government debt doubled, reaching 10 perent of GDP in 1960. In the next decade and a half local government debt plateaued at just under 10 percent and then in 1976-80 declined to 7.3 percent of GDP. In the early 1980s local government debt began to increase again, breaching 9 percent in 1986, and then slowly increased through the 1990s and the 2000s, reaching 10.8 percent of GDP in 2008.

Federal, State, Local Debt in 20th Century

Chart D.14t: Total Government Debt
by Government Level

At the beginning of the 20th century debt was equally divided between federal and state and local debt, totaling less than 20 percent of GDP. After World War I, the total debt surged to 45% of GDP. But by the mid 1920s debt had declined to below 35 percent of GDP. Then came the Great Depression, boosting total public debt to 70 percent of GDP. World War II boosted federal debt to almost 122 percent of GDP in 1946, with state and local debt adding another 7 percent. For the next 35 years successive governments brought the debt below 50 percent of GDP, but President Reagan increased the federal debt up over 50 perent of GDP, and total debt towards 70 perent to win the Cold War. President Bush increased the debt to fight a war on terror and bail out the banks in the crisis of 2008.

State-by-State Comparison of State and Local Debt

Chart D.15c: State and Local Debt Comparison

The bubble chart shows total state and local debt for each state in dollars per capita compared against the Gross State Product (GSP) in dollars per capita. The chart shows that the overwhelming number of states show a correlation between state and local debt and GSP. Notable outliers are the natural resource states, Wyoming and North Dakota, on the low debt side and New York on the high debt side.

Top Debt Requests:

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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.

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Debt Data Sources

Debt data is from official government sources.

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

Detailed table of debt data sources here.

Federal debt data begins in 1792.

State and local debt data begins in 1820.

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

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Gross Federal Debt

Debt: $19,846,127,520,117.48

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.

US Gross Output for 2016 Released

On April 24, 2017, updated its Gross Output series with the latest data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, including nominal Gross Output for calendar 2016 of $32.189 trillion. Gross Output for some years previous to 2016 have been revised by BEA. now reports Gross Output on its Spending Details page and permits charting of spending and revenue as "percent of Gross Output".

The Gross Output series extends back to 1947.

Masthead was designed and executed by:

Christopher Chantrill.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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