Commentary

Federal Debt Now $200,000 Per Full-Time Private-Sector Worker

By Terence P. Jeffrey | October 15, 2014 | 4:31am EDT

Which will be greater: the burden of student debt on Americans who went off this fall to their first year of college, or the amount of federal debt per full-time private-sector worker when these students earn their degrees and start looking for jobs?

There is no doubt: It will be the amount of federal debt per full-time private-sector worker.

As of last Friday, the total debt of the federal government was $17,858,480,029,490.28, according to the U.S. Treasury. That equaled $200,258.81 for each of the 89,177,000 full-time private-sector workers that, according to the Census Bureau, were in the United States in 2013.

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(There were a total of 105,862,000 full-time workers in the United States in 2013, according to the Census Bureau. However, 16,685,000 of these full-time workers worked for government, getting paid with tax dollars or from government borrowing. That left only 89,177,000 who were self-employed or worked for private-sector employers.)

Federal debt per full-time private-sector worker has escalated rapidly. At the end of 2007, the total federal debt was $9,229,172,659,218.31, which equaled $101,158.25 for each of the 91,235,000 full-time private-sector workers in the United States that year. In 2000, the total federal debt was $5,662,216,013,697.37, which equaled $66,553.23 for each of the 85,078,000 full-time private-sector workers that year.

Since 2000, federal debt per full-time private-sector worker has more than tripled.

On average, going to a four-year private college — and borrowing every single penny of the cost — will impose a smaller burden on this year's college freshman who ends up graduating and eventually becoming a full-time private-sector worker than will the federal deficit spending that took place per full-time private-sector worker before that young person ever stepped foot, as a matriculating student, on his or her college campus.

According to the College Board, the full price for tuition, fees, room and board at a four-year private college in the 2013-2014 school year averaged $40,917. At that rate, a student who went to a private college for four years would spend an average of about $163,668 for their education — if they paid full fare.

Thus, the current federal debt per full-time private-sector worker of $200,258.81 exceeds the average four-year cost at a private college by about $36,591.

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When this year's college freshmen graduate and get jobs, quite likely the biggest personal expense they will face is buying a home.

So which will be greater: the federal debt per full-time private-sector worker, or buying an existing single-family home? In the short run, it may be a close call.

In 2013, the median price on an existing single-family home was $197,400, according to the National Association of Realtors. In January, it was $187,900. By August, the latest month for which figures are available, it had risen to $220,600. But single-family homes were less expensive in August in the South and Midwest, where the median prices were $192,000 and $175,000, respectively.

Still, a person putting a 10-percent down payment of $22,060 on a single-family home at the median August price of $220,600 would end up with a mortgage of $198,540.

That $198,540 mortgage is less than the $200,258.81 in current federal debt per full-time private-sector worker.

Americans who invest in a college education or a single-family home are not only buying a solid asset that will serve them well for the rest of their lives; they are investing in what we used to consider the American dream.

Americans who get up every morning and go to work, and do it week after week after week, and are forced to pay progressively higher taxes to maintain a federal welfare state that is driving our national debt to an unsustainable level are being forced to subsidize a system that is killing the American dream.

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