State debt more than $37,000 per private worker, $13,000 per capita

State Budget Solutions | by Cory Eucalitto | October 2, 2012

State Budget Solutions' third annual State Debt Report released in August showed that together, state governments together face a crushing debt of more than $4 trillion. This report examines state debt on a per capita basis and reveals that state debt amounts to $13,425 for every man, woman and child in America. The debt total equals $37,486 for every private sector worker. It is almost a third of private sector Gross State Product.

Those numbers illustrate that, without serious and immediate reforms, lawmakers will eventually have little choice but to drastically raise taxes and slash services. This updated report examines state debt as it relates to the individuals and families who will ultimately bear that burden.

This report calculates total state debt per capita, per private sector employee, and as a percentage of private sector gross state product (GSP). In each of the three categories, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Alaska are among states with the five largest debt figures. At the other end of the spectrum, Nebraska has the lowest total in each of the areas.

The results

The largest per capita debt figure for all fifty states is Alaska, where each person's share of their state's debt stands at $31,141. New Jersey, Hawaii, Connecticut, and Illinois make up the top five states with the highest per capita share of the state debt.

Nebraska, on the other hand, has the lowest total debt per capita at just $4,249 for each resident. Tennessee, Indiana, Florida, and Idaho round out the lowest five debt levels per capita.

Private sector workers are at increased risk as they are the ultimate tax base for reducing state debt. Using figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, State Budget Solutions determined that Hawaii has the largest debt per private sector worker at $83,815, followed by Alaska, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New Mexico. Nebraska again has the lowest total, with $9,829 in debt for each private sector employee. Indiana, Tennessee, North Dakota, and South Dakota follow.

State Budget Solutions also calculated state debt as a percentage of private sector GSP. Hawaii's debt stands at 79.21% of its entire private sector GSP, the highest percentage of the 50 states. New Jersey is again right behind with its debt representing 59.69% of private sector GSP. Ohio, New Mexico, and Alaska constitute the rest of the top five. Nebraska, Tennessee, Indiana, North Dakota, and Virginia have the lowest debts as a percentage of private GSP.


When viewed in absolute terms, high levels of respective state debt could perhaps be dismissed as merely a product of a state's large population. Indeed, four of the five states with the largest total debts were among the five most populated states. However, a state's economic strength is an effective measure of its capacity to repay. This report shows the state debt on an individual basis, not merely a population basis. Many of the states with large populations that had the largest overall debt figures also had high per capita debts when compared with other states. This study shows that state debt cannot be explained away solely as a function of population.

For example, California, Illinois, and New Jersey have the first, fourth, and fifth largest overall state debts. All are similarly present among the 10 largest debts per capita and per private sector employee. New York, which has the second largest total debt, has the twelfth largest debt per capita. Of all states, New Jersey stands out for its high levels of total debt, debt per capita, debt per private sector employee and debt to private GSP.

In the original report, California showed a total debt that far eclipsed that of other states. Its total of nearly $618 billion was more than double that New York, its closest competitor. This new view does change California's standing among other states, but not radically. It has the eighth largest state debt per private sector worker, ninth largest debt per capita, and sixteenth largest debt to private GSP ratio.

Small population is not necessarily an indicator of the size of debt per capita or private sector employee. Nebraska, Idaho, South Dakota, North Dakota, Arkansas, Utah, Vermont, and Kansas are all states within the bottom twenty of both state debt per capita and per private sector employee. Each is also among the twenty lowest populated states. Hawaii and Alaska, states with smaller populations, have among the highest debt per capita and debt per private sector employee totals.


State Budget Solutions' state debt figures provide a comprehensive view of state obligations. They include general primary government debt, fiscal year budget gaps, outstanding unemployment trust fund loans, unfunded other post employment benefit liabilities, and market-valued unfunded public pension liabilities.

Original total debt figures can be found in State Budget Solutions' third annual State Debt Report. See the spreadsheet below for calculations of debt per capita, per private sector worker and as a percentage of GSP. Population data is from the United States Census Bureau July 2011 state-by-state estimate. Private sector employee data is from Bureau of Labor Statistics for the month of July, 2012. State Gross Domestic Product for private industries is reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Find the spreadsheet with this year's data for all 50 states here.

For last year's State Budget Solutions study of state debt per capita, state debt per private sector worker and a a percentage of GSP, click here.




Find a spreadsheet with data for all 50 states here.

Download file Debt Per Capita 2012