National Debt Clock
Bebeto Matthews/AP

National Debt Clock Is Two Digits Short

October 13, 2008 07:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On public view in New York City’s Times Square, the National Debt Clock has run out of room to record the country's ever-growing debt.

Times Square Timepiece Runs Out of Space

The actual national debt, which is at $10 trillion, is 100 times larger than the number currently displayed.

The Durst Organization, which maintains the electronic sign, says that it will be updated next year. In the meantime, the dollar sign on the clock has been switched to read the number one, or the "1" in $10 trillion.

"We're in a crunch to change the debt clock as fast as we can and to add an extra digit and do what we can ... making the debt clock flashier, getting people's attention on it, really being able to explain the problem a little more than what was limited to us when we first built the clock," Helena Durst, the granddaughter of the clock's creator, said to CNN.

The clock, which takes its calculations from the U.S. Treasury, has already been overhauled three times since it was built in 1989 to accommodate the country's rapidly growing debt.

Background: The National Debt Clock

The National Debt Clock was the brainchild of a Manhattan-based real estate developer named Seymour Durst.

"Perched above the Avenue of Americas at 43rd Street, the 25-by-10-foot sign has become a fixture in the national psyche. Copycat signs have sprouted across the country. Politicians use it to argue for budget cuts. Television newscasts flash it as the symbol of an issue too complex to explain in 30 seconds," The New York Times reported in 1995, when Durst died of a stroke.

Durst was so concerned about the national debt that, according to his son, Doug Durst, in 1980 he sent New Year's cards to all legislators and members of Congress that read "Happy New Year, your share of the national debt is $35,000," Every week until his death in 1995, Durst would collect numbers from Federal agencies and input his own calculations into a computer that was connected to the clock.

When the clock was first displayed in 1989, the national debt was at $2.7 trillion.

"$10 trillion is a number that would just be beyond my father's imagination back in 1980, and now we're there," Doug Durst said to CNN.

The clock was briefly covered up in 2000, when the nation's debt situation started to improve.

Opinion & Analysis: The National Debt

Seeking Alpha comments that the overhaul of the National Debt Clock is an indication that nothing is being done about the nation's debt: "We're just moving the debt around in our economy, not getting rid of any of it. For proof one need only look up at the National Debt Clock in NYC."

Reference: The National Debt


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