15 countries with the highest per capita government debt


DenisProduction.com / Shutterstock.com

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on Commodity.com.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had massive effects on state and local governments by reducing tax revenue, causing widespread unemployment, and increasing health care costs. In addition to cutting spending and, in some cases, raising taxes, state governments have relied on debt to address shortfalls in their budgets during the pandemic.

According to US Census Bureau data, state and local government debt totaled $3.17 trillion in 2019, or about $9,700 per capita. State governments use debt to fund education and infrastructure and to cover budget gaps, among other things. State and local government debt can fluctuate due to spending habits or changes in income from taxes and other sources, such as recessions.

In the 1940s and 1950s, state and local government debt was much lower than it is today. Federal, state, and local governments have grown exponentially during the 20th century. Spending, revenue, and debt increased as the population grew, and the government invested more in infrastructure, education, and social programs.

In the run-up to the Great Recession that began at the end of 2007, total state and local government debt rose sharply. It has decreased since 2010 but increased between 2019 and 2020. In the wake of the pandemic, the coming years will likely see a continuation of this trend. Countries with increased debt may raise taxes or reduce spending to help control their budgets.

The US states with the largest share of debt per capita

financial time bomb
Artem Oleshko / Shutterstock.com

To find the states with the largest state and local debt, researchers at Commodity.com analyzed the latest data from the US Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The researchers ranked states according to the total amount of state and local government debt per capita. The researchers also calculated total state and local government debt, total state government debt, total local government debt, and total state and local government debt as a percentage of state GDP.

Here are the states with the highest per capita state and local debt.

15. Pennsylvania

Harrisburg Capital
John Billos / Shutterstock.com
  • Total state and local government debt per capita: $9778
  • Total state and local government debt: $125,178,460,000
  • Total State Government Debt: 48958884,000 dollars
  • Total local government debt: 76219576000 dollars
  • Total state and local government debt as a percentage of GDP: 15.5%

14. New Jersey

New Jersey Capitol
KL Kohn / Shutterstock.com
  • Total state and local government debt per capita: $10,384
  • Total state and local government debt: $92,231,421,000
  • Total State Government Debt: 63926685000 dollars
  • Total local government debt: 28304.736000 USD
  • Total state and local government debt as a percentage of GDP: 14.5%

13. Texas

Texas Capitol
Clayton Harrison / Shutterstock.com
  • Total state and local government debt per capita: 10410 US dollars
  • Total state and local government debt: $301,840,025,000
  • Total State Government Debt: 53794342000 USD
  • Total local government debt: $248,045,679,000
  • Total state and local government debt as a percentage of GDP: 16.4%

12. Colorado

Colorado Capitol
Christopher Boswell / Shutterstock.com
  • Total state and local government debt per capita: 11,105 dollars
  • Total state and local government debt: 63953107000 dollars
  • Total State Government Debt: 1924,1118000 dollars
  • Total local government debt: 44711988000 dollars
  • Total state and local government debt as a percentage of GDP: 16.3%

11. Rhode Island

Rhode Island Capitol
wolffpower / Shutterstock.com
  • Total state and local government debt per capita: $11283
  • Total state and local government debt: $11,952,946,000
  • Total State Government Debt: $9,275,273,000
  • Total local government debt: $2,677,673,000
  • Total state and local government debt as a percentage of GDP: 19.3%

10. Kentucky

Kentucky Capitol
Alexei Stube / Shutterstock.com
  • Total state and local government debt per capita: $11885
  • Total state and local government debt: $53,097,229,000
  • Total State Government Debt: 15,346,875,000 dollars
  • Total local government debt: 37,750,353,000 dollars
  • Total state and local government debt as a percentage of GDP: 24.7%

9. Washington

Olympia, Washington
Real Window Creative / Shutterstock.com
  • Total state and local government debt per capita: $12,416
  • Total state and local government debt: $94.548994,000
  • Total State Government Debt: $35584686000
  • Total local government debt: $58,964,310,000
  • Total state and local government debt as a percentage of GDP: 15.4%

8. Hawaii

The Capitol Building in Hawaii
lkonya / Shutterstock.com
  • Total state and local government debt per capita: 12,512 dollars
  • Total state and local government debt: $17,715,106,000
  • Total State Government Debt: $10,001,827,000
  • Total local government debt: $7,713,279,000
  • Total state and local government debt as a percentage of GDP: 18.5%

7. North Dakota

North Dakota Capitol
Ice Diamond / Shutterstock.com
  • Total state and local government debt per capita: $12,725
  • Total state and local government debt: $9,697,010,000
  • Total State Government Debt: $3,375,270,000
  • Total local government debt: $6,321,740,000
  • Total state and local government debt as a percentage of GDP: 17.0%

6. California

California State Capitol Building in Sacramento
SnapASkyline / Shutterstock.com
  • Total state and local government debt per capita: 12,823 dollars
  • Total state and local government debt: $506,660,567,000
  • Total State Government Debt: 14529266000 dollars
  • Total local government debt: $361,367,923,000
  • Total state and local government debt as a percentage of GDP: 16.2%

5. Alaska

Alaska state capitol building
Joseph Som / Shutterstock.com
  • Total state and local government debt per capita: 12,994 dollars
  • Total state and local government debt: $9,505,582,000
  • Total State Government Debt: $6,060,930,000
  • Total local government debt: $3,444,652,000
  • Total state and local government debt as a percentage of GDP: 17.5%

4. Illinois

Illinois Capitol
Donald Walker / Shutterstock.com
  • Total state and local government debt per capita: $13029
  • Total state and local government debt: $165.097.105000
  • Total State Government Debt: 65272156000 dollars
  • Total local government debt: 998,24941,000 dollars
  • Total state and local government debt as a percentage of GDP: 18.6%

3. Massachusetts

Massachusetts Capitol
Stefan Oglivarevich / Shutterstock.com
  • Total state and local government debt per capita: $14263
  • Total state and local government debt: $98,310.530.000
  • Total State Government Debt: 78663118000 dollars
  • Total local government debt: 19,647,413,000 dollars
  • Total state and local government debt as a percentage of GDP: 16.5%

2. Connecticut

Connecticut Capitol
James Kirkikes / Shutterstock.com
  • Total state and local government debt per capita: $15,037
  • Total state and local government debt: 53612594,000 dollars
  • Total State Government Debt: 41822,350000 dollars
  • Total local government debt: $11,790,243000
  • Total state and local government debt as a percentage of GDP: 18.6%

1. New York

The Capitol Building in New York
jiawangkun / Shutterstock.com
  • Total state and local government debt per capita: $18,411
  • Total state and local government debt: $358,150,378,000
  • Total State Government Debt: 150744533000 dollars
  • Total local government debt: 207405857000 dollars
  • Total state and local government debt as a percentage of GDP: 20.2%

Detailed and methodological results

A man studies financial data on his computer
NicoElNino / Shutterstock.com

The US states with the largest per capita state and local debt are scattered across the country, including densely populated states such as California and Texas as well as sparsely populated Alaska. With more than $18,000 in state and local government debt per resident, New York ranks first in debt per capita.

New York’s local debt is more than $50 billion more than the state government’s debt, due in large part to the high amounts of school district debt. Nationally, state and local government debt totals $3.17 trillion, and local government debt makes up 63% of the total.

The ratio of public and domestic debt to GDP shows how much a country owes compared to how much it produces. Countries with lower debt as a percentage of a country’s GDP are in a better position to pay their debts. As a percentage of state GDP, state and local government debt ranges from 4.9% in Wyoming to 24.7% in Kentucky.

To find the states with the most state and local government debt, researchers at Commodity.com analyzed the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 annual survey of state and local government financing and the Bureau of Economic Analysis’s GDP by state for 2019.

The researchers ranked states according to the total amount of state and local government debt per capita. The researchers also calculated total state and local government debt, total state government debt, total local government debt, and total state and local government debt as a percentage of state GDP.

Total government and local debt is calculated as the sum of outstanding long-term and short-term debt at the end of the fiscal year (debt payable for a year or less from the date of issue).

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click on links in our Stories.