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Wealth Gap Widens Between Congress and Rest Of America

Submitted by on December 27, 2011 – 12:23 pmOne Comment
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A new report from the Washington Post shows that members of Congress have become much more wealthy over the past few decades, even as personal wealth has declined for most Americans.

Peter Whoriskey writes that median Congressional net worth, adjusted for inflation, has more than doubled between 1984 (the first year for which statistics are available) and 2009: from $280,000 to $725,000. Meanwhile, median net worth for an American family is not only just $20,500, but is $100 less than in 1984.

The Post acknowledges that this increase is unlikely caused by Congressional salaries, which have actually dropped in real dollars since the 1970s. However, they point out that the cost of running a Congressional campaign has quadrupled, discouraging those without personal wealth from running.

However, the Post does not mention recent reports that Congressional representatives have profited from using classified information to increase their personal wealth. Investigations by Newsweek and 60 Minutes exposed that politicians from both sides of the aisle have benefited from behavior that would be considered illegal insider trading for anyone else, but is technically not illegal for members of Congress. (Since then, Congress has begun hearings on the matter.)

The Post article also discusses the political polarization that regularly accompanies wealth disparity, highlighting two Congressmen with different work backgrounds who have represented the same Pennsylvania district. Gary Myers decided to run while still a shift foreman at a steel plant:

Myers, the son of a bricklayer, had worked his way through college to a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, and he looked at issues of work and security at least partly through the lens of his own experience. For example, he bucked other Republicans to vote to raise the minimum wage and favored expanding a program to aid workers affected by foreign imports. He said he understood the need for what was then called “the safety net.”

Mike Kelly, the current representative for the district, grew up working in his father’s new car dealership, and married into an oil fortune:

He opposes the estate tax, the inheritance tax levied on the wealthy, because, among other things, he feels he has been overtaxed already. He says unemployment checks make some less willing to go back to work. And asked about tax breaks for oil companies, he notes that when corporations profit, people with pensions and portfolios do, too.

What do you think? Is Congress not representative of all Americans? Does money or work background affect political ideology?

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