05/01/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT
For Susan Williams, a 37-year-old single mother with two children to support, debt is a constant, daily worry. And as of April 17, the numbers were especially discouraging: $2,775,874,961,565.41.
It could be worse though. At least Williams, an accountant with the Bureau of the Public Debt, doesn't have to worry about paying off the staggering sum. The above figure represents the total indebtedness of the United States of America, and on average it grew at a rate of $722 million a day in the past year. Williams just has to tally the grim figure. And she has to have it figured out, down to the penny, every day by 11:30 A.M. The figure is a matter of public record and is used by government managers and securities markets.
Williams, who lives in Washington, D.C., does her tallying—with the help of a staff of 11—inside a small computer room in the Bureau of Printing and Engraving Annex near the Washington Monument. She uses a combination of arcane financial data—including daily figures from the Federal Reserve banks—to calculate exactly how much Uncle Sam owes his creditors. "There's a lot of pressure," she says, " 'but I work better under pressure."
As for that 15-digit debt, it boils down to $11,209.54 for every man, woman and child in the United States—including Susan Williams.