The municipal bankruptcy epidemic: By the numbers

Across the country, local government agencies face gaping budget deficits caused, in part, by massive borrowing and shrinking tax revenues

California state capital building
(Image credit: Wes Thompson/Corbis)

The federal government may have avoided defaulting on its debts, but many local governments probably won't be so lucky. Dozens of cities and counties across the country are struggling to make ends meet, after the recession and housing market collapse left them with dramatically reduced property tax revenue. As they struggle to pay off debts and financial obligations acquired during the boom years, they're also receiving less money from state government, and the feds. Here, a look at the plight of local governments, by the numbers:


Number of municipal bond defaults in 2010, totaling $2.24 billion

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50 to 100

Number of municipal governments that could default on debt payments this year, according to Meredith Whitney, founder and CEO of Meredith Whitney Advisory Group. Through June, though, there were only 24, totaling $746 million.


Approximate number of municipal bankruptcy petitions filed in the 60 years since Congress established a federal process, Chapter 9 in the bankruptcy code, for the resolution of municipal debts during the Great Depression

12 percent

Share of the U.S. economy made up by the budgets of state and municipal governments

$130 billion

Total budget deficits of California, New Jersey, and about 44 other states currently in the red

$3.2 billion

Amount owed by Jefferson County, Ala., which includes Birmingham. The debt stems from a massive sewer bond that is coming due

$1.3 billion

Amount Jefferson County is asking its creditors to shave off of its debt in a bid to avoid what would be the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history

$1.6 billion

Amount Orange County, Calif., lost from bad investments before it filed for bankruptcy in 1994

$80 million

Unfunded pension obligations to retired city workers owed by Central Falls, R.I., pop. 19,000, which filed for bankruptcy this week. Many other towns on the brink of bankruptcy owe more in pensions than they can afford to pay.

Sources: BankruptcyHome, Barron's, CBS News, Daily Finance, Guardian, Huffington Post, NY Times

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