More than half of all members of Congress had a net worth of more than a million dollars in 2012, according to a review by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). It is the first time in American history that a majority of federal lawmakers have been millionaires, the group said.
Lawmakers and candidates for Congress are required to disclose information about their personal finances each election cycle. CRP reviewed all 534 personal financial disclosure documents for current members of the House and Senate and found that 268 federal lawmakers reported a net worth above a million dollars for the year 2012. The median net worth for Congress as of May’s filing deadline was $1,008,767, CRP reports.
The median American’s net worth, by contrast, was under $39,000 in 2012, according to Credit Suisse. That number doesn’t tell the whole story, either. Black families had a median wealth of just $4,995 in 2010, compared to $110,729 for the median white family. The racial wealth gap doubled over the course of the Great Recession. (Median figures give a clearer sense of the typical person’s experience than do average numbers that are manipulated by the extreme overall inequality in the U.S. economy.)
The stark disparity between the economic reality of lawmakers and their constituents may help to explain why Congress seems fixated on things that rich people care about while allowing programs for the poor to languish. A study released over the summer concluded that while the U.S. Senate used to ignore poor peoples’ concerns in favor of upper- and middle-class interests, it now disregards the middle class as well and responds almost exclusively to rich peoples’ problems. That study refined previous work by other researchers that showed similar congressional tendencies to serve the rich and ignore the rest.
The past few years have offered some stark demonstrations of the consequences of a legislature dominated by the rich. The clearest of these may be sequestration cuts. Congress retained the cuts that savaged programs for the poor and working class, but it leaped into action to spare business travelers from long airport lines caused by the cuts.