For the first time in history, most members of Congress are millionaires, an analysis of financial disclosure data by the Center for Responsive Politics showed earlier today.
Of 534 current members of Congress, at least 268 had an average net worth of $1 million or more in 2012, according to disclosures filed last year by all members of Congress and candidates. The median net worth for the 530 current lawmakers who were in Congress as of the May filing deadline was $1,008,767 -- an increase from last year when it was $966,000. In addition, at least one of the members elected since then, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), is a millionaire, according to forms she filed as a candidate. (There is currently one vacancy in Congress.)
Breaking the numbers down further, congressional Democrats had a median net worth of $1.04 million, while congressional Republicans had a median net worth of almost exactly $1 million. In both cases, the figures are up from last year, when the numbers were $990,000 and $907,000, respectively.
The median net worth for all House members was $896,000 -- that's up from $856,000 in 2011 -- with House Democrats (median net worth: $929,000) holding an edge over House Republicans (median net worth: $884,000). The median net worth for both House Republicans and Democrats was higher than in 2011.
Similarly, the median net worth for all senators increased to $2.7 million from $2.5 million, but in that body it was the Republicans who were better-off. Senate Democrats reported a median net worth of $1.7 million (a decline from 2011's $2.4 million), compared to Senate Republicans, at $2.9 million (an increase from $2.5 million).
In both 2010 and 2011, the median net worth in the country was approximately $68,828 according to the Census. The Federal Reserve had a higher estimate for 2010, around $77,300. I would infer that these numbers have not changed drastically since then (although they might have ticked up slightly). Even if I'm extra-generous in estimating post-2011 change, the median member of Congress would still have a net worth between 10 and 15 times greater than the average American.
Earlier today, I read that Congress is likely to settle on a Farm Bill that cuts $8.7 billion from food stamps, which translates to a $90 reduction in monthly benefits for SNAP recipients. And I read that the Senate is nearing a deal to extend long-term unemployment benefits by extending the sequestration cuts for a year, cutting the time frame of UI benefits, and reducing disability insurance benefits.
Such stories are clearly related. When most members of Congress are millionaires, the daily experience of the poor and the struggling will simply not seem as real to them. The poor are another country in their eyes. And, frankly, one could say the same about their relationship with much of the middle-class as well.
A 2011 study from professors at Northwestern University found that those in the 1% are more likely than other groups to see the federal budget deficit as the country's most pressing problem and to prefer free markets and philanthropy rather than government action to address social problems. When I first read that report, one chart in particular struck me, the one on opinions regarding the government's role in job creation.
Senators and Representatives likely socialize with members of their own social class, an echo chamber of elite opinion.
A hundred years ago, Victor Berger, the first Socialist elected to Congress, and Anne Martin, the first woman to run for Senate, criticized Congress as a "soviet of lawyers (and bankers)." Plus ça change...