Jan 22, 2024 - Economy

U.S. debt hits record high as rich economies pile on IOUs

Debt as share of GDP for select economies
Source: International Monetary Fund; Chart: Deena Zaidi/Axios Visuals

The world's richest economy is piling on more debt, with no end in sight as the stakes get higher.

Why it matters: The U.S. public debt surged during the pandemic and recently passed $34 trillion — a record even when accounting for inflation, according to recent data.

Between the lines: As Washington bickers, the long-term solvency of entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security remains an open question.

  • Another fight over the debt ceiling looms early next year. An agreement reached to raise it last May expires in January 2025.

By the numbers: In the last century, the U.S. federal debt has risen from an inflation-adjusted $403 billion in 1923 to $33.17 trillion in 2023.

Zoom in: The U.S. has plenty of company. Virtually every other major government across the world has aggressively tapped into global debt markets.

  • Japan has the highest debt-to-GDP ratio at 255%. Its national debt has floated above 100% of its GDP for more than two decades.
  • China's national debt is above 80 percent of its GDP, according to IMF data.
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