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Debt of U.S. govts highest since WWII

Feb. 21, 2011 at 12:08 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- National, state and local debt in the United States likely will top post-World War II levels because conditions have changed, economists said.

Debt levels fell in the years after the war, but economists said the levels today are climbing and even deep cuts in spending won't completely alter the trend, The Washington Post reported Sunday.

Debt levels fell after World War II because of rapid economic growth bolstered by a young labor force, world-leading manufacturers and a demand for goods consumers kept bottled up during the Depression, among other things, Harvard University economist Kenneth Rogoff said.

Now, the United States has a graying labor force, a manufacturing sector often behind Asian and European rivals and so-so consumer spending, the Post said. Also, government spending is committed to entitlement programs and debt service, which will become harder to change.

"We're not growing like we were after World War II, so the amount of debt you can bear and the trajectory are much worse," Rogoff said.

In addition, state and municipal governments face mounting fiscal woes, compared to post-World War II when they were basically debt-free. Economists said state and local governments across the nation have about $2.4 trillion in debt, or more than 15 percent of gross domestic product.

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