President Barack Obama unveiled his new budget to Congress on Feb. 14, amid the furor over the deficits that have been run up over recent years as well as worries about a still-fragile economy.
Worries over the federal government’s debt and its possible consequences has been a pressing issue, and a whole new host of representatives has been elected on the basis that they will trim the federal budget to help the nation get back to fiscal responsibility.
But it is not just the federal government, with a debt of more than $14 trillion, that is in deep fiscal trouble. The average American also is likely to be heavily in debt as well.
According to an October 2010 Time magazine article and a CNN article that cites a Federal Reserve Bank of New York report, the total household debt in the U.S. skyrocketed from $680 billion in 1974 to about $11.6 trillion as of Sept. 30, 2010.
Household debt, which is the total amount a household owes to financial companies, is not the only kind of debt Americans have to worry about. For students and for parents of students, it is troubling to note that the class of 2009 graduated from college with an average debt of $24,000, according to a report by The Project on Student Debt.
Many TCU students, whose cost of attendance is more than $40,000 annually, will likely graduate with loan or credit card debt, and possibly a mortgage.
For all the debt average Americans carry, they save precious little. The national personal savings rate is about 6 percent of personal disposable income and was even lower before the recession hit.
In economics, there is a cyclical pattern to a country’s economy, and recessions are bound to happen. Yet people and governments will be hit harder if the recession comes when they are in debt.
If anything can be learned from the recession, it is that it’s time to start being more fiscally responsible on a personal and a government level. The nation must shift from a consumerist attitude to a more investment-driven one.
To do this will require sacrifices, such as not buying a larger house in favor of a more economical one, as well as putting away a larger portion of a paycheck in case of emergency. It also will require sacrifices on both the state and federal levels of government, such as paring back spending programs and raising taxes to combat the debt.
Throughout history, great empires have declined and fallen due to fiscal irresponsibility. The Roman Empire overspent and spread itself too thin, and the British Empire collapsed because of massive war debts. The United States can avoid this fate if both the American people and the federal government work to become more fiscally responsible and make the painful sacrifices needed.
It might help to become fiscally conservative, but any change in attitude must be more than a passing fad. The national debt and personal debt of the average American are among the most daunting issues the nation faces. Yet if we make the hard choices and keep a commitment to fiscal responsibility, this is an issue that can be overcome.
Jordan Rubio is a freshman broadcast journalism major from San Antonio.