(NewsNation) — America’s gross national debt has surpassed $31 trillion for the first time.
The figure was revealed in a Treasury Department report released Tuesday and comes at a time when the economy faces inflation and higher interest rates. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government borrowed more money to support the economy as lockdowns disrupted labor markets and supply chains.
The costs of borrowing remain higher, and with economists warning of an impending recession, the milestone comes at an inopportune and volatile moment. A Wall Street sell-off from all-time highs in January has been driven by recession fears, though markets made gains Monday and Tuesday following a brutal September.
While President Joe Biden has touted his administration’s deficit reduction efforts this year and recently signed the so-called Inflation Reduction Act, which attempts to tame 40-year high price increases caused by a variety of economic factors, economists say the latest debt numbers are a cause for concern.
Owen Zidar, a Princeton economist, said rising interest rates will exacerbate the nation’s growing debt issues and make the debt itself more costly. The Federal Reserve has raised rates several times this year in an effort to combat inflation.
Zidar said the debt “should encourage us to consider some tax policies that almost passed through the legislative process but didn’t get enough support,” such as imposing higher taxes on the wealthy and closing the carried interest loophole, which allows money managers to treat their income as capital gains.
“I think the point here is if you weren’t worried before about the debt before, you should be — and if you were worried before, you should be even more worried,” Zidar said.
The Congressional Budget Office earlier this year released a report on America’s debt load, warning in its 30-year outlook that, if unaddressed, the debt will soon spiral upward to new highs that could ultimately imperil the U.S. economy.
In full, this year’s deficit will decline by $1.7 trillion, representing the single largest decline in the federal deficit in American history, the Office of Management and Budget said in August.
The Biden administration touted the single-year reduction in May, saying it would “grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out.” The president emphasized that strong job gains have increased overall incomes and led to additional tax revenues that have improved the government’s balance sheet.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.