Wealth in Congress climbed as others saw net worth stay stagnant, reports show

CBS/AP
CBS/AP

Members of Congress have historically been wealthier than the average American, but the net worth of lawmakers on Capitol Hill has jumped considerably in recent decades, two new analyses show.

From 2004 to 2010, the median net worth of members of Congress jumped 15 percent, the New York Times reports. In that same period, the net worth of the richest 10 percent of Americans held steady while Americans overall saw their median net worth fall 8 percent.

An analysis from the Washington Post shows that from 1984 to 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House more than doubled from $280,000 to $725,000 in inflation-adjusted 2009 dollars, excluding home equity. The average American family saw its wealth slightly decline in that same time frame.

Earlier this year, as part of CBSNews.com's United States of Influence series, Hotsheet explored the reasons why members of Congress are unusually wealthy: To start with, political campaigns that have become increasingly costly to run. Once in office, members of Congress enjoy access to connections and information they can use to increase their wealth, in ways that are unparalleled in the private sector. And once politicians leave office, their connections allow them to profit even further.

The level of wealth in Congress stands in stark contrast to the economic challenges that many Americans continue to face.

The Times asked the offices of all 534 members of Congress if they had close friends or family members who had lost jobs or homes since the 2008 downturn. Just 18 members responded, 12 of whom said someone close to them had been laid off or had to shut down a business. Half said they had a close friend or relative who lost their home.

In an October 2011 CBS News poll, 34 percent of Americans said the economic downturn has caused major life changes for them and their family, while 46 percent said the downturn has been difficult but did not cause any major life changes.

The Post notes that the growth of income inequality has correlated with political polarization in Congress. In a report earlier this year on the growing income inequality within the U.S., CBSNews.com noted that studies show senators are more responsive to the preferences of upper-income constituents.

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