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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.

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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