Dave Manuel Logo
Monday, March 02, 2015
Click Here to Subscribe to My Free Newsletter

DaveManuel.com BLOG POSTS

2010-11-06 16:52:00 - By

A History of Budget Surpluses in the United States

Looking at past budgets through binoculars - Illustration Given the current budget situation in the United States (two consecutive $1 trillion+ deficits and massive projected deficits as far as the eye can see), it can sometimes be easy to forget that the country actually posted a budget SURPLUS just ten years ago.

That's right - in 2001, the United States posted a budget surplus of $127.3 billion dollars. Imagine that.

As a matter of fact, the United States managed to string together four consecutive budget surpluses from 1998-2001. The highest surplus came in 2000, when the country managed to bring in $236.4 billion MORE than what it spent.

Let that sink in for a second - from a $236.4 billion surplus to a $1.4 trillion deficit in just a decade.


Prior to 1998, the United States posted an unbroken string of 28 consecutive budget deficits. As far as I know, this is the longest such streak in the history of the United States.

The string started in 1970 ($2.8 billion deficit) and ended in 1997 ($22 billion deficit).

If we don't post a budget surplus between now and 2030, we'll break this record. Given how unbelievably out of balance our budget currently is, I would say that this is a strong likelihood that this streak will be broken. After all, the White House is currently projecting eye-poppingly high deficits between now and 2020, so that will only leave ten years for the country to swing back into the green.


Since 1940, the United States has posted just 12 budget surpluses:

1947 - $4 billion ($38.08 billion inflation adjusted)
1948 - $11.8 billion ($104 billion inflation adjusted)
1949 - $0.6 billion ($5.35 billion inflation adjusted)
1951 - $6.1 billion ($49.78 billion inflation adjusted)
1956 - $3.9 billion ($30.42 billion inflation adjusted)
1957 - $3.4 billion ($25.67 billion inflation adjusted)
1960 - $0.3 billion ($2.15 billion inflation adjusted)
1969 - $3.2 billion ($18.5 billion inflation adjusted)
1998 - $69.2 billion ($89.96 billion inflation adjusted)
1999 - $125.6 billion ($159.5 billion inflation adjusted)
2000 - $236.4 billion ($290.7 billion inflation adjusted)
2001 - $127.3 billion ($152.76 billion inflation adjusted)

When the United States shut their war machine down after WWII, the country quickly swung back into the green, buoyed by a significant decline in government expenses.

From 1951-1960, the United States posted four budget surpluses thanks to strong economic activity and extremely low unemployment rates. For instance, in 1953, the country posted an AVERAGE unemployment rate of just 2.93% for the year, with two months (May, June 1953) coming in at an obscenely low 2.5%. Given the fact that the national unemployment rate in the United States is now nearly 10%, a 2.5% rate is pretty hard to fathom.

As you probably could have guessed, the government tends to post surpluses during years when the unemployment is fairly low. Here are the average unemployment rates in years when the US government has posted a surplus since 1948:

1948 - 3.75%
1949 - 6.05%
1951 - 3.28%
1956 - 4.13%
1957 - 4.3%
1960 - 5.54%
1969 - 3.5%
1998 - 4.5%
1999 - 4.22%
2000 - 3.97%
2001 - 4.74%


Now let's go a bit further back in time..

From 1901 to 1939, the United States managed to post a total of 19 budget surpluses. This included a run of 11 straight surpluses that ran from 1920 ($291 million) to 1930 ($738 million).

The Great Depression and the country's entry into WWII then conspired to create a string of red years that ran from 1931 ($462 million) to 1946 ($15.9 billion).


Fast forward back to 2010.

How far away is the US government from posting a budget surplus?

Sure, you've heard that the country is going to post a deficit of around $1.2 trillion in 2010, but what does that mean?

Total Revenues in fiscal 2010 are expected to be around $2.38 trillion, while total expenditures are expected to come in at $3.55 trillion. That leaves a gap of around $1.2 trillion.

So, in order to close the budget gap, either:

-revenues will need to increase over 49%, assuming that expenses remain flat
-expenses will need to fall 34%, assuming that revenues remain flat

Now, obviously revenues are expected to rebound strongly once the economy picks up and unemployment starts to drop, but you can clearly see the yawning chasm that currently lies between us and a balanced budget.


A few more surplus notes for you:

-from 1789 to 1849, the United States posted a cumulative surplus of $70 million

-the largest surplus in the history of the United States in inflation adjusted terms? $290.77 billion, posted in 2000 (height of the dot com bubble, unemployment rate of just 4.0%)


Source: A History of Deficits and Surpluses in the United States

Source: Historical Unemployment Rates in the United States

Filed under: General Knowledge

3 COMMENTS - What Say You?

Comment by Jim Mulligan on November 07, 2010 @ 11:57 pm

"the largest surplus in the history of the United States in inflation adjusted terms? $290.77 billion, posted in 2000 (height of the dot com bubble, unemployment rate of just 4.0%)"

Has anyone ever quantified what amount "Capital Gains" were generated in the dot.com, IPO -
Pump & Dump era?

The item that never makes its way onto the playing field is that every year going back to '57 [including the years of wine and roses]
we have added to the Debt side of the ledger.


Comment by Michael W. on February 23, 2011 @ 3:51 am

The Clinton surplus was a myth, the total national debt has increased every year since about 1928. See this site:



Comment by Philip W. on April 14, 2011 @ 8:59 pm

Michael W., you're mis-understanding the difference between Debt and Deficit.

Debt is how much we owe over-all.

Deficit is the difference between how much we make and how much we spend in a year.

If spending is above how much we make, we have a deficit and have to borrow money, which causes the debt to rise quickly.


Leave a Reply (No Registration Required)


Your Comment:

Related Articles
Find Good Life in North Dakota - Advertising Campaign Logo
Posted on: 2014-11-11 19:27:00
State Unemployment: Georgia Leads Way With Unemployment Rate of 7.9%
The May 2014 Deficit - Illustration
Posted on: 2014-06-11 17:17:00
US Posts $130 Billion Deficit in May
April 2014 - Surplus - Illustration
Posted on: 2014-05-12 20:21:00
United States Posts $106.85 Billion Surplus in April
The United States Debt Growth - Illustration - Map
Posted on: 2014-05-01 22:21:00
January 8th, 1835
United States - Receipts and Outlays - June 2013
Posted on: 2013-07-11 16:45:00
United States Posts $117 Billion Surplus in June


Twitter $$


Debt Ceiling Changes (1940-Present)

United States Debt Clock

Where Did The DJIA/NASDAQ/S&P 500 Trade On..

Historical GDP Numbers for the United States

Historical Spending Increases

US Government Spending Breakdown 1962-2015

History of Deficits and Surpluses in the U.S.

History of Debt In The United States

Largest Foreign Holders of US Debt

Historical Gold Prices

Inflation Calculator

What Did It Cost?

Hedge Fund Filings

Historical Unemployment Rates in the United States

Historical State Unemployment Rates

Canada Debt Clock

A History of Bank Failures in the United States

Dow Jones Historical Data

Nasdaq Historical Data

S&P 500 Historical Data

Median Household Income History

House of Representatives History

Compound Interest Calculator

List of Failed US Banks 2015

Historical Unemployment Rates in Canada

UK Debt Clock

Intragovernmental Holdings

Historical Fed Funds Rate

Historical Bitcoin Prices

Financial Twitter Alerts


Institutional Funds Flock To Alibaba

Las Vegas: Democrats Currently The Favorites To Win in 2016

Los Angeles Clippers Likely To Fetch $1 Billion+ in Sale

Mark Cuban Not Sweating His Lack of Involvement in Box IPO

Vince McMahon a Billionaire Once Again

Parsing Obama's 2014 State of the Union Address

NHL Franchise Values Continue To Soar

Twitter To Trade Under TWTR Symbol

Shares of Tesla Drop on Downgrade, Car Fire

More Problems Arise For JC Penney


Etoro Rezension

Os Dois Principais Corretores de Forex no Brasil

Meus Corretores Forex Brasileiros Favoritos


Ted Cruz Net Worth

Marco Rubio Net Worth

Hillary Clinton Net Worth

John Boehner Net Worth

Paul Ryan Net Worth

Rick Santorum Net Worth

Newt Gingrich Net Worth

Mitt Romney Net Worth

Ron Paul Net Worth

Joe Biden Net Worth


Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Net Worth

Russell Wilson Net Worth

Jeb Bush Net Worth

Andrew Luck Net Worth

Lionel Messi Net Worth

Rand Paul Net Worth

Dr. Dre Net Worth

Wayne Rooney Net Worth

Johnny Manziel Net Worth

Stephanie McMahon Net Worth

Satya Nadella Net Worth

Paul Allen Net Worth

Adam Silver Net Worth

Peyton Manning Net Worth





Ballot Box

Market Timer


Cold Storage

Asset Allocation

Surge Pricing

Vault Cash


The Top Three Online Stock Brokers In Canada

The Top Two Forex Brokers in Canada

DraftKings Promo Code - Earn a Bonus of up to $600

FanDuel Promo Code

Hostgator Coupon Code

Daily Fantasy MMA

Daily Fantasy NBA

Daily Fantasy NFL

Daily Fantasy Sports Bonuses


Blog Posts

Company Reviews


General Knowledge

General Market News

Health + Fitness

Hedge Fund News

Internet Companies

Making Money Online


Online Forex Trading

Real Estate News

Stock Market Education

Stock Market Scandals

The Economic Meltdown

Trader Profiles

DaveManuel.com - Copyright 2015, All Rights Reserved | Advertise | Privacy Policy | Disclaimer