In Debt We Trust


Over the past decade, what has happened to the U.S. government’s public debt?

Statistic: Public debt of the United States from 1990 to 2018* (in billion U.S. dollars) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista
  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What is the current U.S. public debt in total dollars (top chart)?

  3. What is the current U.S. public debt as a percent of GDP (second chart)?

  4. Identify one trend in the top chart?

  5. Explain one cause of that trend.

  6. Describe one consequence of that trend?

  7. Explain whether this trend is good or bad news.

  8. Look at the second chart. Superimpose the names of the US presidents, their years in office, and their political party on this chart. Does a president’s political party impact the rate of debt during their time in office?

  9. Americans have different political ideologies, beliefs, and values. What would the typical American conservative say about a government that spends so much more than it takes in?

  10. To make the debt go down governments need to spend less (budgetary expenditures) than they take in (tax). Imagine you were a politician who wanted to eliminate our debt and advocated spending less (cutting government programs) and taxing more (increasing how much citizens pay the government in taxes). How would your economic goal impact your reelection chances?

  11. Why does American public debt keep rising?

  12. At the same time as the U.S. debt goes up, what is going down?

  13. Write the entire U.S. public debt number out (in other words, turn the trillions into zeroes):

  14. In the entire word there are 7 billion people; 6500 spoken languages, and about 400 billion birds. Name anything in the world that there are more than 22 trillion of:

  15. How does U.S. public debt compare to the rest of the world?*

  16. Who owns the U.S. public debt?*

  17. What role does the U.S. Congress have in the US debt?

  18. What role does the POTUS have in the US debt?

  19. President Trump signed the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, reducing U.S. tax revenue. 83 percent of the tax breaks from this bill go to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. How will these huge tax cuts impact the U.S. debt?

  20. Based on your knowledge of American politics, why would the President give such a large tax cut during a time of dramatically increasing American debt?

  21. How old will you be in 2050?

  22. If you were to look at the overall trend of this chart, predict what the chart will look like in 2050.*

Visual Extension*

Statistic: The 20 countries with the highest public debt in 2017 in relation to the gross domestic product (GDP) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista
Statistic: Forecast of the gross federal debt of the United States for fiscal years 2018 to 2029 (in billion U.S. dollars) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

Learning Extension

Freak yourself out and check out the US debt clock. You’ll love it! Check back in weekly and see how it has grown!

Action Extension

Contact the POTUS or your Congressional Representatives and let your voice be heard about the U.S. debt.

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