Economist Presents Scary US Debt Number: $70T

James Hamilton: That's the 2012 total of off-balance-sheet federal liabilities
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 15, 2013 11:24 AM CDT
Economist Presents Scary US Debt Number: $70T
A sign showing the U.S. national debt is displayed in New York, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012.   (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

If you're worried about our country's fiscal health, you may want to stop reading. A UC San Diego economics professor sees a problem area we're overlooking: "the growth of federal liabilities that are not included in the officially reported numbers." James Hamilton did the math, and claims that these off-balance-sheet federal liabilities totaled $70.1 trillion as of last year; that's six times the $11.9 trillion in US debt held by the public (ie, the reported on-balance-sheet debt), according to the Treasury Department. Here's Hamilton's breakdown of unfunded liabilities, per the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Washington Examiner:

  • Medicare obligations to future retirees, $27.6 trillion
  • Social Security obligations to future retirees, $26.5 trillion
  • Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, and other housing commitments: $7.5 trillion
  • FDIC-insured bank deposits: $7.6 trillion
  • Other government trust fund obligations: $1.8 trillion
  • Student loan program liabilities: $325 billion
  • (Hamilton also factors in a reduction in that liability to get to $70.1 trillion; he explains it here.)
Hamilton acknowledges that "these off-balance-sheet concerns may or may not translate into significant on-balance-sheet problems," but that doesn't change the fact that "they are huge. And implicit or explicit commitments of such a huge size have the potential to have huge economic consequences, perhaps for the better, perhaps for the worse." (Read more national debt stories.)

We use cookies. By Clicking "OK" or any content on this site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. Read more in our privacy policy.
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.