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National Debt is Equal to $48,700 for Every American

Friday February 3rd, 2012   •   Posted by Stephanie Freedman at 4:33pm PST   •  

© Dmitry Ersler |

Richmond Times Dispatch reported a calculation of each individual’s “responsibility” to the debt.

The national debt is equal to $48,700 for every American or $128,300 for every U.S. household,” Forbes, R-4th, wrote in a January 24 blog post. “It is now equivalent to the size of our entire economy.”

Those are some eye-catching numbers, so wanted to see if Forbes was right.

Forbes is referring to gross national debt –which includes publicly held debt as well as the amount the government owes trust funds for Social Security and Medicare. The gross debt was about $15.2 trillion on the day the congressman made his statement, according to data from the U.S. Treasury Department.

Joe Hack, Forbes’ spokesman, said the congressman used census data to break down the debt load to per-person and per-household shares.

Hack referred us to the U.S. Census population clock, which continuously updates the estimated number of people living in the the nation. On Feb. 1, the clock showed the U.S. population was 312.9 million.

When you divide the amount the U.S. owes creditors by the population, the national debt equals $48,686. So Forbes, rounding up, is right in saying the debt comes to $48,700 per person.

Now, let’s turn to households. There were 118.7 million of them in the U.S. in March 2011, according to the most current Census Bureau estimate. Doing the math, that means the debt per household comes to $128,378 — just above Forbes’ calculation of $128,300.

Still, Forbes is comparing a January 2012 debt figure to a March 2011 household number. We found a sure-fire way to make an updated estimate.

The Census 2012 Abstract of the United States shows that the size of the average household was 2.6 people in 1990, 2000 and 2010. So we divided 312.9 million (the Feb. 1, 2012 U.S. population tally) by 2.6, and arrived at 120.4 million households. That would equal $126,585 of debt per household at the of this month — pretty close to the number Forbes cited.

What was even more disturbing was a response made regarding this statement:

“The debt is owed by the U.S. government, which ultimately pays up through its ability to tax,” said Frenzel, a former Republican congressman.

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February 2012