New Congress even wealthier after millionaire freshmen join its ranks
While US citizens are getting poorer and increasingly applying for food stamps, the nation’s legislators are getting richer. Freshmen members of the 113th Congress have a median net worth that is about $100,000 higher than the net worth of all congressional members combined. All 535 members of Congress are worth an average $966,001 each, according to a new analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.
A typical American household has a net worth of about $66,740 – a value that has been declining since the start of the most recent recession. Between 2007 and 2010, the median net worth of American households sank 47.1 percent. Food stamp enrollment increased by 15.5 million since 2009 and recent job creation figures show that low-paying jobs have largely replaced higher paying ones.
At a time when the majority is struggling financially, the nation’s leaders are accumulating more wealth.
“What’s [hard] to measure is whether these new legislators appreciate the financial pain people face and can effectively represent them despite the fact that they themselves are well off,” Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, told Open Secrets.
Almost 50 percent of the lawmakers have a net worth of more than $1 million, the wealthiest of which, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), was worth more than $500 million in 2011 and could be worth more than that today.
"Often people focus on who's up, who's down and the number of millionaires in Congress. And of course we should monitor how representative our legislature is and whether someone is getting rich while in public office – and why," Krumholz said, adding that many of these legislators invest in companies and could therefore also have conflicts of interests.
Adding the average net worth of each member of Congress comes out to about $4.5 billion. With many of its members being in the nation's top "one percent", the legislators' rising incomes illustrate the increasing income gap during a time of economic struggles.
Americans living below the poverty line rose to 49.7 million last year – a record high which equates to 16 percent of the population. A recent study also shows that the US income gap is worse today than it was in 1774.
“The era when Washington economists and politicians could dismiss inequality as a second or third-tier issue may be ending,” wrote National Journal writer Jonathan Rauch. “And progressives, potentially, have a case against inequality that might put accusations of ‘class warfare’ and ‘politics of envy’ behind them.”