Politicians Get Wealthier As Those They Represent Get Poorer

In the past quarter-century, Congressmen have gone from super rich to super-duper rich, while their constituents have remained relatively poor. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are doing quite well for themselves, raising their median net worth from $280,000 to $725,000 from 1984 to 2009. In the same span, the average net worth of American families has dropped from $20,600 to $20,500. The inflation-adjusted figures come from Panel Study of Income Dynamics from the University of Michigan.

As The Washington Post notes, the income disparity highlights the potential difficulty of lawmakers to sympathize with constituents’ economic plights as they consider legislation. The figures also demonstrate how rare and difficult it is for those from the middle or lower classes to attain political office.

The resources and connections it takes to win Congressional elections are daunting. Winning Congressional campaign expenditures have quadrupled to $1.4 million since 1976. It’s a given that poor people generally have more urgent purposes for their money rather than donating to those campaigns, presumably giving them less access to their representatives.

Growing wealth widens distance between lawmakers and constituents [The Washington Post]


Edit Your Comment

  1. AgostoBehemoth says:

    They are the 1%.

  2. Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:


  3. Cat says:

    Stop electing the wealthy to run your country, you poor, stupid redneck republicans.

    • Hedgy2136 says:

      Shhh. Don’t repeat this, but the Democrats are wealthy too.

      • Tim says:

        But Democrats, in general, don’t support policies that favor the rich over the poor and make the poor more poor.

        • TuxthePenguin says:

          Just to be cynical for a moment, lets say that I get elected by a poor constituency saying I’m going to look out for them and fix their problems. Now, add in there that you want to be a career politician. Is your incentive really to fix it for them… or just throw them enough breadcrumbs to look like you’re doing something…

        • dangermike says:

          Take a good, close look at the democrats running California and ask yourself just what the result is of decades of bond measures upon bond measures upon spending bills upon fraudulently balanced budgets… the whole place is collapsing in on itself with the worst school, high crime crime rates, rampant welfare dependency, and every cliched victory for the little guy carving out the soul of her economy.

    • atthec44 says:

      According to my Google-fu…

      Of the 237 millionaires in Congress, around 65% of them are Democrats and 4 of the 5 richest are Democrats.

      • MutantMonkey says:

        But you don’t hear about them signing a “Don’t Tax the Wealthy” pledge.

        • atthec44 says:

          Can I assume you’re talking about the Grover Norquist pledge?

          If so, that was a pledge not to raise taxes on anybody. There is a huge difference between what the pledge actually is and what you just claimed it is.

          • syphonblue says:

            Right. Which is why all those Republicans were about to vote to raise taxes for 160 million Americans who don’t make millions of dollars. Cause the pledge was for everybody.

            Wait, what

            • atthec44 says:

              You might want to read up on what actually happened rather than just listen to what MSNBC tells you.

              The Republican controlled House passed a bill that would have extended the payroll tax holiday for another year.

              The Democrat controlled Senate passed a bill that extends the payroll tax holiday for 2 months.

              • syphonblue says:

                Yeah, they DID pass a year-long bill

                Let’s find out what was INSIDE that bill shall we?

                “To fund the tax cut, the measure would freeze pay for civilian federal workers for another year and reduce the government workforce.”

                “reduce the maximum time those out of work can receive assistance, from 99 weeks to 59 weeks. It also would allow states to require drug testing for benefits.”

                “pay for the ‚Äúdoc fix‚Äù by raising Medicare premiums for upper-income seniors and eliminating some funding for the federal health-care law.”

                “it also would accelerate the construction of an oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast “

                Maybe instead of being condescending, you could actually do some research.

                • novajosh says:

                  “To fund the tax cut, the measure would freeze pay for civilian federal workers for another year and reduce the government workforce.”

                  I think this is a great idea. In general, this would cost less for taxpayers. Just think if federal workers and state workers went on 401k/social security how much money that would save taxpayers.

                  • Consumed says:

                    Federal employees hired after 1985 already have been in a 401K/ social security type plan for the last 25 years. There is also a pension that is 1% times the number of years of service times the average rate of pay for the highest three years. For someone who started at 25 and retired at 65 that would be 40% of pay.

                • atthec44 says:

                  And you think these are bad things?

          • MutantMonkey says:

            Except it’s being used to prevent that specific demographic from paying their fair share.

            It’s easy to bill this as an all encompassing No Tax pledge to lock in current tax rates which helps ensure that businesses and the wealthy can keep dodging taxes through loopholes.

            • atthec44 says:

              According to the IRS…

              The top 1% of wage earners pay 36.73% of the personal income taxes collected by the IRS.
              The top 5% of wage earners pay 58.66% of the personal income taxes collected by the IRS.
              The top 10% of wage earners pay 70.47% of the personal income taxes collected by the IRS.
              The top 25% of wage earners pay 87.30% of the personal income taxes collected by the IRS.
              The top 50% of wage earners pay 97.75% of the personal income taxes collected by the IRS.
              The bottom 50% of wage earners pay 2.25% of the personal income taxes collected by the IRS.

              So, who is it that isn’t paying their fair share?

              • sjackson12 says:

                is this a serious post

                • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

                  Obviously not, because these statistics always conspicuously avoid mentioning 1) what percentage of all personal wealth is held by each percentage cited, or 2) how much each person in each bracket has left after taxes. Without that kind of context, the given percentages are meaningless. If the top 1% earns 40% of all wages earned, then paying 36.73% of all taxes collected certainly is not fair, but in a way the people touting these statistics didn’t intend. I could certainly pay a lot more and miss it a lot less than someone making minimum wage or close to it.

              • MutantMonkey says:

                Unfortunately that doesn’t take into account their massive deductions and exemptions which include those loopholes that should have been plugged a long time ago.

              • Kate says:

                The top wage earners also use the lion’s share of government services, unless you think that riding a bus costs more than using a port or tying up the court system for years.

              • woogychuck says:

                The top 10% has 90% of the income. We should be paying 90% of the income taxes. It’s simple.

                I’m in the top 7% and I wouldn’t even notice a 3% increase in my taxes. It would not affect my spending/planning at all. Worst case scenario, it means I retire at 59 instead of 57.

      • Cat says:

        Just pointing out the curious phenomenon of poor rednecks voting for those that openly support policies that benefit the wealthy.

        I do realize that there are no “real” differences between the two corrupt parties.

        • pecan 3.14159265 says:

          I think it’s beyond stuff like the have-nots supporting parties whose practices go against their best interests. Because of the economy, a lot of people who previously didn’t really have to think about the poor are finding themselves among them. They’re not seeing either party as much of a solution anymore because both parties are full of the wealthy who can’t possibly understand the plight of the middle class, let alone the plight of the struggling middle class and the poverty-ridden lower class.

    • Yacko says:

      It isn’t about Repubs or Dems. Running a campaign for national office is expensive and requires business experience. A campaign is an enterprise and must be incorporated and file papers with business units of the various states. Wages and withholding for non-volunteer workers apply. It is not trivial and no poor person is likely to run a campaign for Senate or likely House. The best you can get is a local businessman with a small business. Anybody else will not have the expertise. The “organization” that schedules appearances, rallies, callers, get-out-the-vote all take management skills and a management team, of which the candidate is the head. A small or sparsely populated state, a relatively uncontested House seat and a small business owner is about the best chance you can find.

      Look at Scott Brown or Barack Obama. Lucky, shrewd, an opponent that self-immolated, these were low end Senate campaigns compared to most. This kind of entry point to national politibs is rare. Both had limited assets and net worth at Senate entry, Obama maybe sub $200,000 and Brown twice that, but to most Americans these are still rich men.

      As to the US gov. The US Senate is akin to the House of Lords. Fewer representatives, longer terms, more static, but the elections then become higher stake events and you have the Senate generally the higher income group. The House is akin to the House of Commons. More reps, shorter terms and turnover, more dynamic. Theoretically someone in the upper middle class might squeak in. Rhode Island sent Eddie Beard, who was a house painter, who may or may not have completed college, to 3 terms in the House of Representatives. I am sure there are other examples of reps with lower social standing but it is still a rare phenomenon.

      It is part and parcel of an election. Someone who is not good at making money, without social grace, unable to afford a Brooks Bros-Lands End look, will be perceived as not competent to serve. When a rep gets to Washington, he or she will have to rent an apartment at WEashington prices, keep a legal abode back in the state they live and even on the cheap, go through several thousand dollars per annum in travel expenses. The average person could not manage this.

  4. TuxthePenguin says:

    I wonder what the average net worth of a first time elected Congressman/Senator is compared to the average of all Congressmen/Senators. Basically… are they getting richer because they are in Congress, or at they getting richer because they are richer when they get to Congress. If its the latter, then its one set of problems, but something that would be tough to deal with. If its the latter (they get richer and richer as they stay longer and longer) then I think it would raise serious questions…

    • Darury says:

      I would guess it’s the latter. Both sides avoid implementing rules such as banning insider trading. If I tell you about that my company is about to come out with a new widget that will triple the stock price, I go to jail. If Congress knows it’s about to pass a law mandating everyone purchase my widget, they can purchase stock and tell all their family members to purchase stock without so much as anyone blinking.

  5. Insert nickname here. says:

    My representatives have long since ceased to represent me. I write to them regularly to express my opinion on important issues, but they use their franked mail (my own tax dollars) to try to convince me that I am wrong and they are right. Damned idealist that I am, I thought it was supposed to work the other way around. I direct all their email messages to my spam folder now.

    • Jaynor says:

      I tried to get a straight answer out of Melissa Bean (IL) last election cycle about healthcare… I received only form letters that didn’t address my questions in reply. I did my best to convince everyone I knew to vote against her last election. When she lost by a few hundred votes I sent a goodbye note letting her know that she shouldn’t ignore her constituents (I wouldn’t have altered the results alone… but a few more of me would have).

      • FatLynn says:

        I got the same stuff from Obama when he was my senator. Fortunately, my congresswoman (Schakowsky) is one of the most progressive in the house.

    • Tim says:

      So stop voting for them.

      Congress has a 9% approval rating, but 90% of incumbents got re-elected in the last election. Basically, people think “I hate Congress, but not my congressman.”

      • BurtReynolds says:

        Except time after time people would rather vote a party line than show thier disgust with the status quo. Add in the fact that an incumbent is rarely challenged in a primary. Plus the candidates are all increasingly radical, especially on the right.

        The 2012 presidential race is example A of this. We got a sitting Democrat who spent 4 years ignoring the voters who put him in office, generally refusing to stand up to the House GOP, and basically acting like a moderate Republican. The base isn’t happy about it, and I’m sure many people would love to throw him out.

        The problem will be that your choice is going to be truly awful in comparison. Romney actually did some decent things in Massachusetts, but he bascially disowns that now. I’m waiting for him to deny being governor. Newt is a man with no convictions other than dollars and will morph into anything the far right wants him to be. Don’t even ask about Rick Perry or the rest. Huntsman seems somewhat normal, but he has no chance.

        So who will a moderate or a progressive vote for? They don’t want the current guy, but the new guy? Another choice of bad vs. worse.

  6. floyd fan says:

    Congresspeople make $174,000/year. Any way you look at it, compared to most people in the US, that’s a helluva lot of money.

    What does somebody working at Target make? $12.00/hour? That’s $25k per year.

    Unfortunately, the interests of a person making 25k per year are vastly different from a person who makes 7 times that much. I would never expect someone in the government to have my best interests in mind when making decisions.

    We’re on our own here, kids. We have been for a long time.

    • Alliance to Restore the Republic of the United States of America says:

      Yeah during the recent tax fight some politicians said an extra $40 a week wasn’t a big deal for Americans and they shouldn’t be concerned. I think that illustrates your point nicely.

      I think anyone who is worth over $1M cannot run for or donate to politics.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I think we’re solid middle class, and $174,000 is a hell of a lot of money. I can’t even imagine making that much money by myself.

      • chizu says:

        And that’s what they make as politician alone, it doesn’t include the amount they make with their other job/business(es) they own…

        • tinmanx says:

          I think all politicians should be barred from doing any kind of outside work or investments. This will cut down on career politicians, unless they really love the work and not the side money.

    • TuxthePenguin says:

      Remember that $174k in one of the most expensive places to live (inside the Beltway) is not that much… and that they still have their home back in their district/state to take care of. Its not as much as it might sound like.

    • RueLaLaLa says:

      Where’s this Target paying $12/hour? I don’t know of any retail job in my area paying that much? Most start at $7.50 and even after 5 years you’ll barely be making $8.

  7. Roy Hobbs says:

    There is only one answer. Throw every single last one of them out, even the ones that you agree with/like. They need to get the message whether they pick up the phone or not.

    • Insert nickname here. says:

      I agree.

    • chizu says:

      I once read that the politicians in Singapore only get one term, so they have to get stuff done while they are in office because they will never get elected again. It seems like term limits would be a great thing for our politicians, but they’ll NEVER pass that bill…

  8. Alliance to Restore the Republic of the United States of America says:

    So politicians and corporations have both increased their wealth over the last 30 years while the little guy hasn’t.

    Seems to me those targets on their backs keep getting bigger and bigger. Just sayin’.

  9. Alliance to Restore the Republic of the United States of America says:

    Also something that should catch on:

    “Hey man, nice shot.”

  10. iamjustjules says:

    The saddest thing is that a lot of people are fine with elected officials ruling over us like overlords. Luckily, every few years you can express your displeasure by voting them out.

    Day-to-day issues like money, wealth, and inequality are pushed to the side to worry about social issues. Social issues matter, but start with your family first, then the community you live in, then your general region.

  11. ceril75 says:

    To quote Eddie Murphy in The Distinguished Gentleman

    I’m a con man. A small-time con
    man. Do you know what it was like
    for me to come to Congress? It
    was for like dying and going to
    heaven. If I did back home the
    kind of scams I’ve run in Congress,
    my ass would be in Sing Sing. But
    no, I’m not a crook — up here,
    I’m a distinguished gentleman!

  12. Nobody can say "Teehee" with a straight face says:

    A more telling survey would be how much networth increased or decreased after taking office. All this study indicates to me is that it takes more money to fund a campaign for office than it did in the past.

  13. oldwiz65 says:

    That’s the reason Congressmen take so much money under the table – they need it for campaigns, then for other expenses. Congress knows they can fool people and get even the poor to vote for them, all the while working to cut Medicare, Social Security, and any program that benefits anyone other than the rich 1%.

    One thing they really worry about is someone managing to find who gets the dirty money and publicize it.

  14. oldwiz65 says:

    And besides salary, they also get free health care, pension for life, and all the money they can take in on the side for their votes on issues. Corruption rules the U.S

  15. petermv says:

    What needs to be done is eliminate all political contributions and publicly fund elections. Every candidate gets to air his or her policy/ideas in exactly the same way.

  16. Skyhawk says:

    Ideally, both Houses of Congress should be eliminated.
    We have the technology to allow for direct Democracy.

    Short of that, we should fill House and Senate seats the same way we fill jury pools. Random drawing.
    No more career politicians and no more lobbying.

    We already trust or lives and/or money with12 of our peers in a court room.

  17. AngryK9 says:

    Well, yes. The only reason these dolts got into politics was to line their pockets. You don’t think these moronic politicians actually give a rat’s arse about anyone but themselves, do you?

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      They don’t. One of my state’s representatives said in an interview in the local paper (he’s from around here) that in the year he’s been in the House, he has seen firsthand that the other reps and the senators absolutely do not care about anything other than themselves.

      Sad to say, it sounds like he’s getting discouraged rather than angry about this. That he would even notice it, much less say anything about it, makes me wish like hell there were more of him in there.

  18. dolemite says:

    Well of course. Just look at the things they argue about. Whether gays are human beings and deserve rights. Whether we should keep “Under God” in our government. Meanwhile, health insurance is quickly being priced out of reach except for the richest Americans. The middle class’s wealth is no longer rising, and is actually shrinking. The lower income people can’t make enough money to even put a roof over their heads, even if they are working 50 hours a week. Meanwhile, the rich’s wealth has grown 60% in that same time period. They have the attitude that they earned their money, and they want to pay their employees the absolute lowest wages and benefits possible. When they ALL do it…they wonder why their sales don’t increase. Umm…maybe because since all you rich bastards are hoarding the wealth instead of paying your employees, they have no $ to buy products? And Congress members are PART of that culture? They argue over 2% tax breaks while health insurance is skyrocketing 10% every year.

  19. Alliance to Restore the Republic of the United States of America says:

    “This one’s for the workers who toil night and day
    By hand and by brain to earn your pay
    Who for centuries long past for no more than your bread
    Have bled for your countries and counted your dead

    In the factories and mills, in the shipyards and mines
    We’ve often been told to keep up with the times
    For our skills are not needed, they’ve streamlined the job
    And with sliderule and stopwatch our pride they have robbed

    We’re the first ones to starve, we’re the first ones to die
    The first ones in line for that pie-in-the-sky
    And we’re always the last when the cream is shared out
    For the worker is working when the fat cat’s about

    And when the sky darkens and the prospect is war
    Who’s given a gun and then pushed to the fore
    And expected to die for the land of our birth
    Though we’ve never owned one lousy handful of earth?

    All of these things the worker has done
    From tilling the fields to carrying the gun
    We’ve been yoked to the plough since time first began
    And always expected to carry the can”

  20. VashTS says:

    Pretty sad we know what’s going on and can do nothing. Remember November the 5th.