As Congress debated extending unemployment benefits, like Medicare and Social Security disability benefits, a report regarding other benefits was released. The Center for Responsive Politics found that, for the first time in history, more than half of the Congressional members are worth more than $1 million.

The report, released in early January, finds that at least 268 out of the 534 current members of Congress have an average net worth of more than $1 million. The numbers are based on personal disclosures filed in 2013, regarding the 2012 fiscal year. To calculate net worth, the Center added together the members’ assets, such as corporate bonds and stocks, and subtracted liabilities such as credit card loans and mortgage debt.

Overall, Senators are wealthier than House members while Democrats are slightly wealthier than Republicans.

The fact and knowledge that Congressional members are much wealthier than the average Americans they represent is not new. Intuitively, politicians need large sums of money to run campaigns, and are more likely to have access to influential donors if they themselves are wealthy.

However, this is the first time in history that we have a Congress of millionaires, where over half of Congress is worth more than $1 million. That fact is somewhat ironic, as it is Congress who determines unemployment benefits, food stamps and the minimum wage, as well as legislation to overhaul the tax code.

Josh Bivens, director of research at the Economic Policy Institute, was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “Congress not only seems more responsive to policy desires of the very rich, but increasingly they are the very rich.

These findings also come at a time when wealth disparity within the United States of America is becoming a political focus. During the summer of 2013, Obama decried the “inequality of opportunity” while Pope Francis recently drew attention to growing economic inequalities – a message that Congress supported.

These issues of inequality are likely to weigh heavily on the 2016 election. Whether or not the pressure will result in a more economically diverse group of representatives remains to be seen.

Claire Karban

Sources: Open Secrets, New York Times, LA Times, Time, New York Times Blogs
Photo: Nation of Change