The Rich People's Congress

Members of Congress aren’t like you and me—they’re substantially richer.

Roll Call reported this week that the total net worth of Congress was more than $2 billion in 2010. That’s about 25% more than in 2008. That number doesn’t include the value of members personal residences or other non-income generating property, which members are not required to disclose. That means that the mean net worth the men and women who serve in Congress—not including the value of their homes—is around $3.2 million. The Wall Street Journal estimates that the average wealth of the richest 1% is about $14 million, so that doesn’t place members of Congress on average in the 1%. But it doesn't put them in the 50% either. The mean net worth of Americans in 2010 was about $182,000. On average members of Congress, in other words, were worth more than 17 times as much as the average American.

Wealth turns out to be split relatively evenly between the parties. Senators, not surprisingly, are richer than House Members, but House Members are still substantially richer than the average American. But the average numbers are skewed by the fact that the 50 richest members of Congress—led by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), who alone is worth some $300 million—account for almost 80% of the members’ total net worth. Roll Call estimates that the median member of Congress is probably worth a more modest $500,000, which is still around 5 times as much as the median American household.

It’s not surprising that members of Congress are richer than the average American. You generally have to be successful to be elected. Struggling to make ends meet would raise doubts about your ability to do your job in Congress. And being personally wealthy certainly helps in financing a campaign for office.

Having money, of course, doesn't necessarily mean that they don't act in the interest of those of us who are less well off. But it also shouldn’t be surprising if Congress as an institution is more likely to be concerned with how much the rich pay in taxes than how hard it is for unemployed homeowners to find a job or pay off their mortgages.

Photo: Jeff Dean

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