Here’s what $18 trillion in national debt looks like


By Jason Hart |

America’s national debt topped $18 trillion Friday, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Public debt outstanding has since dipped slightly but will probably exceed $18 trillion again in a matter of days.

When President Obama took office Jan. 20, 2009, debt held by the public plus intragovernmental holdings totaled $10.63 trillion. During Obama’s presidency, the national debt has increased by $7.38 trillion — an average of more than $3.4 billion every day.

The tower of debt depicted above contains 100,000 bundles of $10,000 stacked 10 wide, 80 deep and 125 high. It takes most American families more than two months to earn $10,000; the U.S. Census Bureau estimates median household income was $51,939 last year.


At more than $56,000 per man, woman and child, each American’s share of the national debt is greater than the median household income. The federal government’s debt is also greater than America’s 2013 gross domestic product of $16.8 trillion.

Even trying to visualize $1 trillion — 100 million bundles of $10,000, or 10 billion $100 bills — is difficult. The $18 trillion national debt would fill 2,392 48-foot semi trailers jammed full of $100 bills.


Covering a football field like the one where Obama gave his presidential nomination acceptance speech in 2008, the national debt in $100 bills would reach 124 feet into the air.


The federal government ran annual deficits exceeding $1 trillion every year of Obama’s first term, with President George W. Bush presiding over several months of fiscal year 2009 before Democrats passed Obama’s $800 billion “stimulus” package.

National debt increased by slightly less than $5 trillion through the entirety of Bush’s two profligate terms. As of June, international investors and foreign governments held more than $6 trillion in U.S. Treasury securities according to the Treasury department.

Public debt reported by the Department of the Treasury does not include an estimated $49 trillion in unfunded Medicare and Social Security liabilities, and it does not include more than $4 trillion in unfunded state pension liabilities.