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Putting U.S. debt in perspective

October 17, 2013: 5:00 AM ET

The recent shutdown spat and debt ceiling brawl in Washington was about many things – pride, power, a hatred of big government, Obamacare, perhaps Obama himself. But nestled among those concerns is debt – specifically, a fear that we're borrowing more than we can afford.

So how bad is it?

The raw number looks pretty bad.

chart-us-owes

But before people go cutting up social security cards or building doomsday shelters, consider this: most nations carry some debt. In relation to the size of its economy, the U.S. isn't nearly as bad as some countries in the industrialized world:

chart-bubble-debt-gdp

Even developing countries have debt:

chart-nations-clocks

And in the future, as baby boomers retire and costs for Medicare and Social Security soar, the nation's debt is predicted to similarly soar to unsustainable levels. But not anytime soon -- U.S. debt as percent of GDP grows to 107% by 2018, according to the IMF.

Finally, consider this: The average U.S. household is in worse shape than the government:

chart-income-debt

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About This Author
Steve Hargreaves
Steve Hargreaves
Senior Writer, CNNMoney

Steve Hargreaves is a senior writer covering economic, energy and environmental issues at CNNMoney. Previously, he worked out of Istanbul and Bangkok, and has been published in the Village Voice and the Australian Financial Review. He tweets at @HargreavesCNN

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