How the U.S. Is Building an Unprecedented Mountain of Debt

America has a long history of binge-borrowing in times of tumult, then rebalancing in good times. But 10 years after the Great Recession, the national debt continues to soar.
August 22, 2019, 12:00 PM UTC

Piling up debt in times of tumult is a strategy with a long, successful history in the U.S. When confronted with wars or cataclysmic downturns, the government borrows heavily—driving up debt relative to U.S. GDP—and rebalances after good times return. But a decade after the most recent crisis-driven borrowing binge, the Great Recession, U.S. debt continues to soar. According to the Treasury Department, federal borrowing is set to hit $1.23 trillion in 2019 on top of $1.34 trillion in 2018. Absent major legal or policy changes, the Congressional Budget Office projects the debt-to-GDP ratio will rise into uncharted territory in decades to come.

Sources: Congressional Budget Office; Treasury Department

A version of this article appears in the September 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “Building a mountain of debt.”

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