While millions of Americans saw their incomes decrease, their job opportunities dissipate and their home values drop as the economy dipped, the 535 men and women they elected to represent them in the U.S. Congress were not only shielded from the economic downturn but gained during it.
The average American’s net worth has dropped 8 percent during the past six years, while members of Congress got, on average, 15 percent richer, according to a New York Times analysis of financial disclosure. The median net worth of members of Congress is about $913,000, compared with about $100,000 for the country at large, the Times’ analysis found.
This wealth disparity between lawmakers and the people they represent seems to be continually growing. Nearly half of Congress — 249 members — are millionaires, while only 5 percent of American households can make the same claim.
Even among the super rich, members of Congress fare better than other wealthy Americans. While the net worth of the richest 10 percent of Americans has remained stagnant since 2004, lawmakers’ net worth has seen double-digit growth, the Times reports.
Members of the House have fared especially well. From 1984 to 2009, the average net worth of the 435 House reps more than doubled, from $280,000 to $725,000, not including home equity, according to a Washington Post analysis of financial disclosures.
And while lawmakers in the “people’s house” grew significantly richer, the people they represent became slightly poorer, with the average wealth of an American household dropping from $20,600 to $20,500 over the same time period, the Post reports.
This growing disparity may be due, in part, to the rising cost of campaigning, which may deter less-affluent citizens from seeking public office.
To win a House seat, candidates spent an average of $1.4 million in 2010, four times as much as was spent in 1976, according to the Federal Election Commission. Winning a Senate seat is nearly 10 times as expensive, with the average successful Senate campaign shelling out nearly $10 million in 2010.