The Post-Great Recession Geographies of U.S. Municipal Borrowing and Indebtedness

Kevin Ward, Mark Davidson, David A Lukens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Borrowing from capital markets has long been central to U.S. urban government (Peterson 1981; Sbragia 1996). Over the past five decades, U.S. cities have become even more reliant on borrowing, with local governments becoming more entrepreneurial and Federal authorities withdrawing fiscal support (Harvey 1989; Hackworth 2007). Some also claim this reliance has grown since the Great Recession (Peck 2014). Despite the perceived significance of borrowing to urban government, municipal indebtedness remains a relatively understudied topic within geography. This paper examines post- Great Recession indebtedness changes (2006-2016) in the general funds of U.S. municipalities. We show that general fund indebtedness has not generally increased since the Great Recession, although a complex landscape of divergent borrowing and indebtedness is evident across cities with different populations. The paper uses the Government Finance Database to collect and analyze U.S. Census Bureau data on municipal debt and budget health. We conclude by reflecting on how the analysis can help develop existing understandings of municipal debt and fiscal policy in a post-COVID 19 era.
Original languageEnglish
Journalthe Professional Geographer
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 10 Oct 2020


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