By James D. Agresti
December 23, 2011
On the Friday before Christmas weekend, the U.S. Treasury released its annual “Financial Report of the United States Government.” The data it contains shows a significant worsening of the federal government’s financial condition during its 2011 fiscal year.
Beyond the commonly cited national debt, the report uses corporate-style accounting standards to tally the government’s assets and obligations. This includes items such as cash on hand, inventories, certain properties, benefits owed to federal employees, liabilities to government-sponsored enterprises (like Fannie Mae), and unfunded obligations of the Social Security and Medicare programs.
Based on this newly published data, Just Facts calculates that our nation’s government now has about $61 trillion ($61,058,400,000,000) in debts, liabilities, and unfunded obligations, which is an increase of about 4.5 trillion dollars over last year.
The total shortfall amounts to $195,554 for every person living in the U.S. or $514,471 per household. This exceeds the combined net worth of all U.S. households and nonprofit organizations, including all assets in savings, real estate, corporate stocks, private businesses, and consumer durable goods such as automobiles (Table B.100).
The largest chunk of this figure (roughly $46 trillion) comes from the closed group unfunded obligations of the Social Security and Medicare programs (page 21). These unfunded obligations are determined in a manner that approximates how publicly traded companies are required to determine their debts and obligations. The shortfalls represent how much money must be immediately placed in interest-bearing investments to cover the difference between projected revenues and expenditures for all current taxpayers and beneficiaries in these programs.
The Medicare program is in even worse shape than the figures above reveal, because the data is based upon current law requirements, which the federal government admits are unrealistic. The 2011 Medicare Trustees Report bluntly declares, “there is a significant likelihood that the projected” Medicare “expenditures are substantially understated as a result of potentially impracticable elements of current law.”
These impracticable elements involve “an almost 30 percent reduction in Medicare payment rates for physician services” starting in 2012 along with a provision of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) that will lead to “severe problems with beneficiary access to care” if left in place (pages 229 and 265-266).
The methodology for determining the figures above is detailed in Just Facts’ national debt research, which will soon be updated with this newly published data.