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The National debt of the United States is the amount owed by the federal government of the United States. The measure of the public debt is the value of the outstanding Treasury securities at a point of time that have been issued by the Treasury and other federal government agencies. The terms national deficit and national surplus usually refer to the federal government budget balance from year to year, not the cumulative total. A deficit year increases the debt because more money is spent than is received; a surplus year decreases the debt because more money is received than spent.
There are two components of gross national debt:
In general, government debt increases as a result of government spending, and decreases from tax or other receipts, both of which fluctuate during the course of a fiscal year. In practice, Treasury securities are not issued or redeemed on a day-by-day basis, and may also be issued or redeemed as part of the federal government's macroeconomic monetary management operations. The aggregate, gross amount that Treasury can borrow is limited by the United States debt ceiling.
Historically, the US public debt as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) has increased during wars and recessions, and subsequently declined. The ratio of debt to GDP may decrease as a result of a government surplus or due to growth of GDP and inflation. For example, debt held by the public as a share of GDP peaked just after World War II (113% of GDP in 1945), but then fell over the following 35 years. In recent decades, however, aging demographics and rising healthcare costs have led to concern about the long-term sustainability of the federal government's fiscal policies.
On November 7, 2016, debt held by the public was $14.3 trillion or about 76% of the previous 12 months of GDP.Intragovernmental holdings stood at $5.4 trillion, giving a combined total gross national debt of $19.8 trillion or about 106% of the previous 12 months of GDP. $6.2 trillion or approximately 45% of the debt held by the public was owned by foreign investors, the largest of which were China and Japan at about $1.25 trillion for China and $1.15 trillion for Japan as of May 2016.
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