Begin by asking the class a few questions, defining some key terms, and playing a short video clip.
Ask students if they know how much the total gross U.S. national debt is. Then show students the actual debt number using either this link from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation or this one from usdebtclock.org. Tell students that the class will discuss the reasons for this huge debt, understand the consequences for future generations, and study potential solutions.
Ask students what the difference is between these two similar‐sounding terms: debt and deficit. Then define the following terms:
Deficit: When government spending exceeds revenues over a fiscal year
Surplus: When government revenues exceed expenses over a fiscal year
Debt: The total accumulation of deficits over time, offset by any surpluses over time
Ask the class if they think that someone who has $1 million in debt is in serious financial trouble. Then ask: What if that person is a billionaire? A person making $20,000 a year? Tell students that all debt needs context, including the national debt. Then define the debt‐to‐GDP ratio:
Debt‐to‐GDP ratio: A number that compares a country’s debt to what it produces every year (the gross domestic product [GDP])
Then play this video clip from CNN Business (2:49 minutes) that discusses the difference between the debt and the deficit and mentions the importance of the debt‐to‐GDP ratio. (Note: this video is from 2016, but the terminology is correct, and you can point out how much higher the debt numbers are today than just a few years ago.)