U.S. Federal Government Debt as a Percent of GDP Over Time
1) This chart was created from historical tables included in the U.S. Federal Government fiscal year 2011 budget. The federal
government adjusted its fiscal year one calendar quarter (3 months) during 1976, creating a 'transition quarter,' which has been
neglected in this chart.
2) The chart shows the federal debt - how much more it spent than it collected in revenue during each fiscal year from 1940 to
2009, with projections through 2015 - as a percentage of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
3) This debt represents money the government borrowed to pay for expenses it couldn't cover with collected revenue (taxes,
4) U.S. Gross Domestic Product is the total annual economic output of the U.S, a key measure of the size of the U.S. economy.
5) A good way to think of this is what percent of the total output of the U.S. economy would be needed to pay off loans to the
U.S. Government. So a debt equal to 100% of GDP means that 100% of the annual U.S. economic output would be needed to
pay off the debt.
6) From the data, one can see that the debt as a percent of GDP grew dramatically to more than 120% of U.S. GDP in 1946,
then slowly shrank through the late-1970s. In the early 1980s the debt as a percent of GDP grew dramatically through the
mid-1990s when it shrank through 2001. From 2001 to 2007, debt relative to GDP has grown steadily, then jumped dramatically
in 2008 and 2009 and is projected to stay at about 100% of GDP through 2015.
7) This graph doesn't tell us anything about the absolute size of the U.S. Federal debt. See U.S. Federal Government Debt
8) This graph doesn't tell us anything about the debt per U.S. citizen. See U.S. Federal Debt per U.S. Resident Over Time.
9) See also U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Over Time.
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