What is the Net Worth of Members of Congress?

Wish there was a Congressional Net Worth graph somewhere? There is, on this very page! Using data compiled from one of our favorite sites Open Secrets, we took the average United States Congressional Net Worth (that data comes as a range, so the average will fall between the low and the high point) and used IBM’s Many Eyes to show their net worth to you, our curious readers. (If reading this in a reader or email click through to play with this awesome tool)

Congressional Net Worth Visualization

All of my data is available at IBM’s Many Eyes. Feel free to play with it and I’ll link to you if you come up with any derivative work!

To make every point the same size, you can change the size in the lower left once you click to interact. The slider on the right is interactive so you can color only members with higher than a certain net worth. If you hover over a box you can look at the data compiled for each politician.

Problems with the Congressional Net Worth Graph

I mentioned one problem with this graph – it lists the ‘average’ Net Worth reported per member of Congress. It may be closer to the lower or the upper bound, but it’s a decent starting point. Also note that member of Congress can play with the reporting when their spouses are independently wealthy, like Teresa Heinz (D – MA: John Kerry’s Wife. Kerry has much more resources than this graph implies.).

Also there are 435 members in a full House of Representatives (usually it’s a bit less due to retirements, deaths, and scandals) and 100 in the Senate. There are 638 data points in this graph since it includes members of Congress elected in 2008 and 2010.

How Many Members of Congress are in the One Percent?

The Economic Policy Institute reported in a 2011 briefing paper that being in the top 1% of net worth in 2007 would put you at $19,167,600 in 2009 adjusted dollars. Basically, by average net worth, 6.11% of Congress would be in the top 1%. Not bad!

On the other hand, the bottom 40% of households had a net worth of $2,300 in 2009 dollars according to that same study. By average net worth, that would put 5.49% of Congress in the bottom 40%. Also, the following member of Congress have an average net worth which is negative

  • Keith Ellison (D-Minn)
  • Steve Scalise (R-La)
  • Tim Griffin (R-Ark)
  • Andre Carson (D-Ind)
  • Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla)
  • Raul Labrador (R-Idaho)
  • Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla)
  • Deborah Ann Stabenow (D-Mich)
  • John Shadegg (R-Ariz)
  • Steve Israel (D-NY)
  • Artur Davis (D-Ala)
  • Marlin A. Stutzman (R-Ind)
  • Renee Ellmers (R-NC)
  • Kevin W. Yoder (R-Kan)
  • Grace Napolitano (D-Calif)
  • Dan Maffei (D-NY)
  • Kristi Lynn Noem (R-SD)
  • John Conyers Jr (D-Mich)
  • Nydia M. Velazquez (D-NY)
  • Louis B. Gohmert Jr (R-Texas)
  • Patrick J. Murphy (D-Pa)
  • Sanford D. Bishop Jr (D-Ga)
  • Sean P. Duffy (R-Wis)
  • Terri Sewell (D-Ala)
  • Bart Stupak (D-Mich)
  • Laura Richardson (D-Calif)
  • John Salazar (D-Colo)
  • Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas)
  • Steve Fincher (R-Tenn)
  • Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla)

So it would certainly affect some members of Congress more than others if they are forced to take a pay cut.

I’m sure not all members on that list are still in Congress (read: I’m too lazy to check) – but note that Congress is in charge of our budget, including the 12 Republicans and 18 Democrats with an average negative net worth. Ironic, huh?

So you’ve got two Personal Finance takeaways from this… pick one. If you’re rich, joining Congress is a nice feather in your cap OR if you want to make money join Congress. I don’t know which one is more disturbing… let me know in the comments!

Comments

    • says

      Yea, I’m too lazy to see if any of them are on any financial committees though, haha. I did enjoy playing with this tool after I created it though!

      • says

        Very cool tool!! I too am shocked about how many have a negative net worth.  I guess we have a bunch of doctors and lawyers in congress who are still paying off school loans and big houses.  Goes to show that ~$150-200k in salary can’t make you ‘rich’, especially when your balance sheet is loaded with debt.  And these guys are making financial decisions that impact all of us…  scary sh#t

        • says

          Yeah – and normally I wouldn’t discriminate based upon net worth, but it did bother me a bit. Except possibly in the cases of underwater houses, I can’t wrap my heads around a negative net worth for a congressman or a congresswoman. However, we do know the coalition that would fight Congressional pay cuts, haha.

  1. says

    This is really interesting. I never thought that anyone in Congress can have a negative net worth. I always thought that people who run for Office have already accomplished a lot and since they are bored, they need something else to do :)  

    • says

      The numbers include mortgages, so a fair number of those 30 might be underwater on a house – or who knows? Businesses gone bad?

      The vast majority of Congress, on the other hand? They have plenty, haha.

  2. says

    Interesting graphic PK.  Somehow I don’t think all of our esteemed members of Congress are reporting all that they should!  I think it would be interesting to do a longitudinal study looking at how the net worth of members of Congress changes prior to entering and after leaving Congress.  My guess is that many take lucrative jobs after pimping, excuse me, doing the peoples business.  I’ll stop back next week PK to read all about it. ;)

    • says

      Oof – sounds like I got a B+/A-! Interesting thought, but finish the job!

      Okay Paul (or TFT?), it’s a deal, but maybe not next week, haha. There is data from 2004 so I should be able to show if some of the heavy hitters have increased their net worth. 6 years of a general Net Worth decline – we’ll have to see if anything interesting jumps out!

  3. Anonymous says

    The congressmen and women with the high networth made their money before getting into Congress.  I honestly think people go into politics to increase their brand.  If you want to make some serious coin.  Run for president!  There is no publicity like running for president.  Look at Sarah Palin!

    • says

      I think I’ll take Paul’s idea and run with it – see how some of these folks have done over the last 6 years. Maybe something weird will show up. I do think there is some of the “feather in the cap” type things going on. Just like buying a sports team is a status symbol, so is being in Congress.

      Sarah did well – and it looks like she might not even run… if I were her I’d ghost write a few more books, pronto.

  4. JT says

    For net worth figures to have been negative, I suppose no tangible dollar value is put on their position of power.  What’s a Congressional seat worth nowadays?  Ask Blagojevich?

    • says

      Some of them have a ‘maximum’ wealth that is positive… it’s possible that they fall in the upper part of the range. The point remains: some of them have a negative net worth. I think I agree with Squirrelers – I’d prefer people to be in the black, heh.

  5. Afford Anything says

    I think its crazy that 5.5% of the members of Congress are in the bottom 40 percent, and that so many have a negative net worth. Imagine: “Occupy Congress!”

  6. says

    So, not too many blue blood, super rich people in Congress? That’s actually kind of refreshing, I would have thought that figure might be higher than just over 6% in the top 1%.

    The negative net worth aspect is interesting as well. If they’re literally taking this as being personal liabilities being greater than assets, then it’s something that raises an eyebrow for sure. In the sense of this: how are people with their own financial troubles actually elected to legislate on billions in spending of public money.

    Maybe that’s what I’ll consider next time elections roll around: the net worth of the person, particularly if it’s less than zero. Not to be too harsh on people that are underwater financially, as that can happen to many good people. But for someone in Congress, I want a higher bar as it’s a vastly different situation and corresponding standard.

    • says

      On top of the fact that those in Congress generally are a bit older and more seasoned career wise (at the point they entered). You’d expect them to have a bit more in the asset department. That’s what makes the negative net worth crowd interesting – but I bet a fair amount of it is real estate related.

      I promise to follow this post up with the net worth of the Presidential Candidates. You know Mitt’s doing fine, haha.

  7. says

    The most recent freshman class was one of the wealthiest ever.  Even though one Wisconsin rep complained to his constituents that his $174,000 salary wasn’t enough to cover his mortgage, student loans and replace his used minivan.  

    • says

      Haha, that’s a reach. Generally, Wisconsin is a bit cheaper when it comes to Cost of Living – but $174,000 should go decently far anywhere (with the possible exception of Manhattan). I’m sure if he lives near Madison it’s a bit more expensive, but $174,000? Hope they saw through that…

    • says

      I was reading a study the other day on net worth which stated that fully 24.8% of Americans have a negative or even Net Worth. So, think about it this way – if you have a dollar in your pocket and no debt you have more net worthy than 1/4 of America has collectively. Wacky!

  8. says

    Another very cool, and interactive this time, graph on your site.  Thanks for forcing me to update my Java plug-in!  Also, I like how your Ad just above this comment section popped up with a picture of one of my state senators who I despise!!

    • says

      Which senator was it? Some pretty funky stuff pops up on AdSense depending on what you were surfing earlier in the day, heh.

      Glad you like it! I’m trying to improve on this piece, because Paul at The Frugal Toad marked this article an A-… got to get that A+, you know?

      • says

        It was Debbie Stabenow… D-Michigan.  Looking at her picture makes me cringe.

        I had a thought about this piece that could help you improve it.. or inspire a follow-up.  It was comforting to find out that some congress members actually have a negative net worth.  What if you could find the average net worth of everybody in America.  Then compare the percentage of “the people” who have greater than average net worths to the percentage of congress members who have greater than average net worths.  Do the same for below average net worths.  I don’t know how this research would pan out, but I have a hunch.  This could help explain how our elected leaders are so out of touch!

        • says

          I thought about it, but the numbers aren’t really reliable for 2010 yet… they’re 2007 numbers adjusted for inflation. When the Fed releases their estimate for 2010 net worth please remind me, haha. I think it’ll be out in Spring 2012.

          I think the safest numbers to use are an average family net worth of $556,300 and a median of $120,300 for 2007. Let’s go with roughly 85.27% over the median… but don’t quote me because those are off the 2007 numbers.

    • says

      I wish I had something deeper than this: The data was there and I’m obsessed with boiling data into a form that’s easy to understand.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! We’re built up a fair amount of visualizations if you want to check out some more.

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