There is a silent problem plaguing our nation. Much like a foreign sleeper agent, it is lying in wait, unnoticed by almost everyone, packing a loaded gun. And when that gun goes off, it’ll be the end of the United States as we know it.
This problem isn’t national security; it’s much larger. It’s not our lagging education system, immigration, or any issue we see in our neighborhoods. This problem basically goes unnoticed but is silently growing day by day.
This problem is national debt, the amount of money the United States has borrowed from various creditors. While more than half of the national debt is money the country has borrowed from itself, the U.S. also owes foreign governments trillions. Currently the national debt is over $19 trillion and increasing by the second.
That is some serious cash. And what honestly is so terrifying about the growing national debt is that almost no one seems to be acknowledging it.
This election year has been quite interesting. Politicians on both sides have shared both mature and incredibly immature words and ideas on how to make this country better. But while some good ideas are being debated, how to solve the national debt isn’t one of them. In fact it’s almost completely avoided because there always seems to be a scarier and more pressing issue (at least in the public’s mind), issues that our instant-gratification-fueled brains care much more about – issues that pop up overnight. Meanwhile, nothing is said about the big, bad monster that is creeping up on us, which we won’t notice it until it’s too late.
The national debt is $19 trillion. That’s a lot of zeros.
While it may seem easy to believe that the United States will simply continue to remain prosperous, quite honestly, we don’t know how bad things could get. In the past few decades we’ve seen our life expectancy go up, increased human rights for minorities, and a stronger, safer nation. But this complacent attitude toward being trillions of dollars in debt will catch up to us.
One day, if the current trend continues, the United States will default on its debt. Social Security will collapse, along with hundreds of other government programs that help citizens. This will leave our generation with no safety net in retirement and significantly lower quality of life than our parents and grandparents enjoyed.
Back in 2012, Greece defaulted on its debt, causing high unemployment rates for its 10 million citizens and increased crime. Greece’s debt affected not just Greece but the entire European economy. The United States has a much larger economy and a much larger population than Greece. Economic trouble here will affect our 320 million people and millions more worldwide.
It may seem that economic issues are not something we teens need to worry about, but in just a few years, even the youngest of us will find our place in the workforce and widespread economic instability may mean the loss of a job or the loss of a life dream. And let’s not forget that the moment there’s massive job loss, the last thing on politicians’ minds is human rights and social reform.
Let’s not let that happen to us.
Change is possible and this is an election year. So for this election and elections to come, let’s not think in the short term. Instead, let’s consider the big picture, long-term implications of every presidency. It’s great hearing some candidates’ promises to help the poor and create jobs. But every great idea has downside and every new government program, unless properly implemented, has the potential to increase the national debt, bringing the day the U.S. defaults on its debt even closer.
I know this article sounds like someone on the street corner waving a sign that says “The End Is Near!” but this country cannot afford to continue its reckless pattern of spending and increasing the national debt.
Former President Bill Clinton managed to balance the federal budget. During his administration the national debt stood still. Why not elect another president who will balance the budget and make the national debt a priority? After all, millions of Americans balance their checkbooks every month. Why shouldn’t we expect the same of the United States government?
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.