The Average Joe would have to work two years to pay off his share of U.S. debt

  • By Shawn Langlois,
  • MarketWatch
  • Economic Insight
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Coming in at about $20 trillion, no other country is even remotely close to the United States in terms of national debt, but the picture changes a bit when the numbers are crunched relative to population size.

By that measure, the U.S. drops to the third spot.

Cost-estimating website HowMuch.net used data from the OECD to create this chart of per capita national debt. The larger the circle, the higher the ratio. The color corresponds with a sliding scale of severity — dark red is per capita debt in excess of $75,000, and blue is less than $10,000:

"Comparing the debt loads of different countries on a per capita basis makes the most sense for a few different reasons," HowMuch.net's Raul Amoros explains. "It's like comparing apples to apples. That's why the United States can run a $63 billion deficit for the month of October — which barely makes the news on Reuters—but missing $900 million in debt payments from Venezuela causes that country's entire economy to tailspin. This makes the comparisons between countries fair."

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As you can see, Japan is at the center of the debt universe with a whopping $90,345 in debt per citizen. Ireland is second, followed by the U.S. at $61,539, which is almost double what the average American taxpayer earns in an entire year.

Then there's China, interestingly positioned on the outer ring.

"The Chinese government has managed to create so much economic growth (which may finally be slowing down) while only amassing $7,119 in per capita public debt," Amoros said. "Granted, China is the most populated country on the planet. That's still an amazing accomplishment given how much modernization the country has undergone."

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