The federal debt has reached $19 trillion, an omen of increasingly severe financial difficulties for the United States unless Washington approves sweeping budget reforms.
Well over $13.6 trillion of that total is known as “debt owed to the public,” meaning money that has been borrowed in the financial markets from Americans as well as foreign investors and other governments.
The rest is internal government debt, money that one part of the federal government owes to another — money owed to Social Security trust funds, for example.
The precise debt figure fluctuates daily. It briefly touched the $19 trillion mark a few days ago and then hit it again early this week. That figure works out to roughly $60,000 per person in the United States. And as the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) warned recently, the debt and interest payments on the debt are expected under current law to rise quickly in the years ahead.
Economists say it is most meaningful to look at debt held by the public as a percentage of what the American economy produces each year (GDP).
According to CBO projections, under current law that percentage will grow from about 76 of GDP this year to 86 percent in 2026 — far above the 39 percent average for the past half-century.
The government also faces tens of trillions of dollars in unfunded obligations, notably for future entitlement benefits that are called for under current law.
Federal Debt to the Penny (Treasury Department)
Reality Check From the Congressional Budget Office (Concord)