Personal wealth: a nation of extremes, and a Congress, too

Wealth inequality in the United States is pervasive — so much so that it’s apparent even in Congress.

The House and Senate have their own form of inequality within their ranks. Of the 534 current members, the 53 richest owned nearly 80 percent of the estimated wealth held by all federal lawmakers in 2014, a Center for Responsive Politics analysis shows. That concentration resembles the inequality that exists in the United States more broadly, where 76 percent of the country’s wealth is held by the top 10 percent of households.

Granted, no tears should be shed for those elected few. The median wealth for a member of Congress, about $1.1 million in 2014, still far outpaces that of the typical American family, worth about $56,355 in 2013 (a 2014 figure is not available). And no member of Congress can be said to live in poverty: Congressional salaries alone remain at $174,000 at the least, placing members firmly in the top 10 percent of American wage earners, with an enviable pension for those who stay in office for at least five years.

But a close look at members’ personal financial disclosure statements covering 2014 shows that Congress is a body of extremes — extreme wealth and a bit of extreme debt. Even though Congress may be a sample of particularly well-off Americans, its richest members are staggeringly wealthy — though none, so far, appear to be billionaires...


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