Sixteen followed by 12 zeroes, that's how big our national debt is. It's a number so big, it's hard to comprehend.
If you spent $1 million every day, it would take you 43,835 years to spend $16 trillion. If you stacked up 16 trillion one-dollar bills, it would reach all the way to the moon and back, twice.
How much does that mean for you? If you break it down, the debt adds up to $51,484 for every man, woman and child in the country.
"There's very little question that there's a problem and that it's a big problem," said Todd Berry from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. He says both political parties are to blame.
"Somehow they've all got to get it into their heads that they can blame each other but in the end we're all going to go down together," Berry said.
So how did we get here? Well, it didn't happen overnight. It actually goes all the way back to the American Revolution.
Back in 1783, our nation's debt was $41 million. At one point, under President Andrew Jackson is 1835, the country was debt free! The entire debt was paid off.
After the Civil War, it was back up to $2.2 billion. By the end of World War II, it was up to $250 billion.
The debt has soared under politicians from both sides.
When President Ronald Reagan took office, the debt was $914 billion. When he left eight years later, it was $2.6 trillion.
The debt climbed slightly under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
When George W. Bush was elected in 2000, the debt was $5.6 trillion. When he left office the debt was $10.6 trillion.
In the last four years under President Barack Obama, the debt has grown to $16.1 trillion. Again, that adds up to more than $50,000 per person.
But that's just the federal debt. There's also the state, county, city, school district and technical college debt. How much is that? It varies depending on where you live. But if you live in Green Bay or Appleton, the total amount of federal, state and local government debt is more than $56,000 per person.
One major difference between local government debt and federal debt is that local governments tend to rely on debt for major purchases, not for day to day operations.
"We can't borrow for operating purposes," said Jim Blumreich from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.
"The majority of our debt right now is for replacement of the existing equipment to keep it up to date so our student has a good experience compared to what they'll see in the job market," Blumreich said.
"Debt isn't always bad," said Green Bay mayor Jim Schmitt. In the city of Green Bay, the debt for local taxpayers has gone down every year for the last decade.
"Debt is part of running a government in that we have to borrow money to build roads and streets and take on some debt. But it's important that we pay off more than we borrow. And we've done that successfully and have reduced our debt to where it's very manageable," Schmitt said.
Tom Sladek is with the Brown County Taxpayers Association. He's also a Green Bay alderman. While he doesn't like debt, he's okay with some of it.
"I think the debt at the local levels is probably more than it should be more than it needs to be, but it's manageable. It's more understandable," Sladek said.
As for the federal debt, he's not so optimistic. Sladek is concerned the United States could end up like Greece, where the debt levels were so high the country couldn't repay its loans. The crisis led to massive spending cuts and unemployment soared to 25 percent.
"It's scary. it's going to lead to something very severe for the country if we don't get our arms around it and get our arms around it fairly quickly," Sladek said.
When asked if he's hopeful that will happen, Sladek replied, "I wish I could say I was hopeful but the march of debt at the federal level has been unimpeded for a long, long time. There obviously are things that are systematically broke that are causing it to go on."
The national debt even has its own government agency. It's called the Bureau of the Public Debt which is part of the Treasury Department. The agency is asking for donors to help pay off the national debt.
In the past year, the government has collected $7,694,091 in gifts to help pay down the debt. At that rate, the debt would be paid off in about two million years.
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