ICAEW chart of the week: a trillion dollar deficit

Chart: A trillion dollar deficit. Revenue $3.6tn, Spending $4.6tn.

The #ICAEWchartoftheweek this week is on the US federal government budget. This is forecast by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to end the current financial year this month at just under a trillion dollars in deficit, with the budget shortfall in the year ended 30 September 2020 projected to exceed a trillion dollars for the first time.

Revenue in 2020 is expected to amount to $3,620bn. The largest contributions are from federal income taxes of $1,800bn and payroll taxes of $1,281bn, followed by a modest $245bn from corporate taxes and $294bn in other revenues.

This is projected to be $1,008bn less than planned spending by the federal government in 2020 of $4,628bn. Social security is expected to cost $1,097bn, while spending on Medicare, Medicaid and other health programmes are expected to cost $1,163bn net of receipts. Income security (welfare) programmes are expected to cost $302bn, while the balance of mandatory expenditure includes spending on military veterans and federal civilian and military retirement plans.

Discretionary spending of $1,400bn comprises $737bn on defense and $663bn on everything else apart from interest. This includes elementary and secondary education, housing assistance, international affairs, and the administration of justice, as well as outlays for highways and other programmes. Net interest is expected to cost $390bn.

The shortfall in revenues compared with spending will be funded by borrowing, with federal external debt expected to increase from $16.7tn to $17.8tn at the end of September 2020.

Federal revenues and spending are estimated to amount to 16.4% and 21.0% of GDP respectively in 2020, with the deficit equivalent to 4.6% of GDP. The CBO projects that the average federal deficit between 2020 to 2029 will be 4.7% of GDP, significantly higher than the 2.9% average over the last fifty years, resulting in federal debt growing from 79% of GDP in 2019 to 95% of GDP over the coming decade.

Of course, the federal budget does not give the full picture for the public finances in the US, with most state governments choosing (or being legally required) to run budget surpluses.

As with many developed economies, the public finances in the US are under increasing pressure with an increasingly long-lived population driving higher costs for social security, health and social care. With lower levels of economic growth (albeit currently much higher than in the UK or Europe) and a growing level of debt, there are concerns about the resilience of the US public finances if there were to be an economic downturn or another financial crisis in the medium term.

As summer turns into fall, it may be that a turn in economic seasons is on the way too. After all, winter is coming.

The full Congressional Budget Office report is available on cbo.gov.