Short-Changed: Thoughts on the National Debt from the Perspective of a Teenager

As many Boy Scouts have learned when camping, one should always leave your campsite in better shape than when you found it. I’m sure most would agree that it would be wise to apply this principle in other areas of life.

Regrettably this concept has been nowhere to be found when it comes to federal fiscal policy. Considering the trillions that continue to be borrowed and spent, I believe that myself and others my age should have a say in this matter. After all it’s we, the youth of America, who are going to have to pick up the tab.

While many in Congress seem to have embraced the notion that the issue of Federal overspending has simply disappeared, the problem has only compounded itself. As of 2015,the U.S. national debt has hit an astonishing $18 trillion. That’s $18,000,000,000,000 when written with all the zeros. To put it another way, that amount equals about $56,000 for every man, woman, and child in the United States.

In 1980, the national debt was $994 billion. By the time that George W. Bush left office in early 2009, the national debt rose to $10.6 trillion. Sadly these numbers seem pretty good when compared to today’s figures.

As of January 2015 the national debt stands at $18.1 trillion. That’s an increase of more than $7 trillion under President Barack Obama. And President Obama’s second term isn’t even over. To make matters worse, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that deficits between 2016 and 2025 will total an additional $7.6 trillion.

Remember the ethic from the Boy Scouts that I mentioned earlier? Perhaps we should consider putting it into practice. In testimony before Congress, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf stated that Federal debt held by the public will be larger than the entire U.S. economy by the year 2040, and will continue to grow unless action is taken.

According to Elmendorf’s testimony, such large and growing federal debt would have serious negative consequences, including increasing federal spending for interest payments, restraining economic growth in the long term, and eventually heightening the risk of a fiscal crisis.

Consider the burden of these unsustainable levels of spending and debt that today’s adults are leaving to their children and grandchildren. Unless we change course, our public debt will be larger than our GDP in 25 years. To put this into perspective, the year 1990 was 25 years ago.

That really isn’t all that long a time. This author is 16 years old, and I will be 41 in 2040. By then I hope to have gotten married, had children and purchased a home with one of those white picket fences. I might even get a dog to go along with it. I’ll be entering arguably the best days of my adult life. The unfortunate part is, unless we act now, I’ll be facing federal public debt that will equal more than 100 percent of our GDP.

This is the equivalent of going out to dinner at the most expensive restaurant in town and enjoying a delicious meal with your friends and family. However, when it comes time to leave and go home, you hand the check to your child. Who in their right mind would do such a thing? That is precisely what today’s adults are doing to their children and grandchildren.

How many of our leaders will choose to ignore this fiscal reality? How many everyday people will choose to look the other way? We must act now to preserve America’s fiscal well-being for the next generation. If our leaders refuse to safeguard our nation fiscally, then we as a nation must elect men and women who are willing to sacrifice the status quo in order to protect my generation’s future.

I’m talking about more than just yard signs and bumper stickers. For true change to happen, we’ll need to genuinely engage as citizens. Getting involved may mean volunteering for a campaign or simply advocating for fiscal responsibility on social media. Whatever your situation is, I implore you to do something. If we fail to act, the nation that my generation inherits may be drastically different from the one we know today.

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