What Could You Do with a Projected U.S. Debt of $15 Trillion?

Here are some ways to wrap your head around $15 trillion of debt.

BySUSANNA KIM
January 28, 2011, 2:43 PM

Feb. 14, 2011 — -- While our nation's current $14.3 trillion debt limit sounds staggering as it is, President Obama submitted a report to Congress this week saying that the figure will top $15 trillion this year.

That much cash is hard to imagine, even if you're Donald Trump. So with the help of usdebtclock.org, let's look at what that kind of money can buy, to put the size of the debt in perspective.

1. 4,080,522,307 Super Bowl tickets

If the average price of a ticket to this year's Super Bowl at the Cowboys Stadium in Dallas was $3,676, according to Forbes, then the country's debt could cover attendance for the next 56,674 annual games, if average attendance at a Super Bowl game is 72,000 people. Or we could just invite half the population of the world, which is expected to reach seven billion people this year. There would need to be a few no-shows.

2. 2,584,121 Hines Wards

The veteran Pittsburgh Steelers' wide receiver reportedly made $5,804,680 last year. That means $15 trillion could pay Hines Ward's salary for 2.58 million years. Unless he negotiates a raise.

3. $48,081.66 per person in the U.S.

The U.S. debt at the moment comes to over $45,000 per man, woman and child, given the current U.S. population of 311,969,269. But that would rise to $48,081 if the debt reaches $15 trillion.

4. The entire annual output of the U.S.

The U.S. GDP is $14,870.4 billion using current dollars, according to the Commerce Department earlier this month. That means the debt will top the current 95 percent of GDP, the value of all economic activity here.

5. The U.S. defense budget for the next 21 years

The defense budget is $690.8 billion, which means the country's debt could cover this largest budget item for the next 21 years.

6. Ten times the U.S. Budget deficit of $1.5 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office's 2011 forecast.

7. 61 million homes

Stephen Bronars, senior economist at Welch Consulting, said that at the median home price of $242,000, the deficit could buy over 61 million homes. That would surely boost the housing market.

8. Over 400 of the country's largest companies

You could buy over 400 of the country's largest companies, according to their market capitalization, said Bronars. Or you could buy ExxonMobil, the largest company in the country, 37 times. It currently has a market value of $399.52 billion. If you prefer, you could buy Apple, Inc., 48 times over. Apple's current market cap: $310.79 billion.

9. 109 New York State budgets

The nation's debt could cover the cost of New York State's budget 109 times. This year the state expects to spend $136.5 billion. The state's budget year ends on March 31; the state's budget gap next year is projected to be about $10 billion.

The National Debt Would Pay For....

10. 2,314 Haitian economies

The GDP of Haiti is $6.48 billion, according to the World Bank, which means Haiti's GDP is 0.04 percent of U.S. debt.

11. 36,855,036,855 Lady Gaga tickets

Lady Gaga had the priciest concerts of 2010, based on shows with a minimum of 1,000 tickets, according to StubHub. The average ticket price to her Radio City Music Hall show on Jan. 23 last year was $407. (She also had the highest-grossing concert tour based on gross sales.)

12. All taxes collected in the U.S., state and federal

With current annual U.S. tax collection of $2.16 trillion, plus $1.17 trillion for all the states combined, it would take four and a half years to pay off the debt if every penny went to that alone.

How Bad Is the Debt?

Tom Digaloma, head of fixed income trading at Guggenheim Partners, said the current $14 trillion may sound astronomical, but it is not as worrisome as the deficits of other countries, such as Japan. Standard and Poor's just recently downgraded Japan's sovereign debt rating to AA- from AA, its first downgrade since 2002. By some measures, Japan's public debt is more than twice the size of its GDP, according to Debtclock.org.

Though Moody's Investors Service and the IMF warned the U.S. about its debt levels, Digaloma said it will not be long before the U.S. increases its GDP and boosts employment levels, easing the debt ratio.

"Our economy is in a deflationary environment and I think we need to continue to spend money to get it back on track effectively," said Digaloma. "The most important component is to get our GDP pumping -- and when we get that pumping we can certainly handle the current debt levels."

Bronars of Welch Consulting said what is most concerning to economists and policy makers is the future obligations of the government, such as Social Security costs.

"A lot of people in Washington are concerned about the costs of those programs increasing," said Bronars.

On that front, the Social Security fund is on track to run out of money by 2037, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. In 2011, the office calculates that Social Security will take in $45 billion less in payroll taxes than it pays out in benefits, a number that is expected to grow each year.

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