WASHINGTON – During a week when unemployment benefits expired for more than a million Americans, a new analysis of lawmakers’ financial disclosure reports shows that, for the first time in history, more than half the members of the House and Senate are millionaires.
Overall, at least 268 of the 534 current members of Congress had an average net worth of $1 million or more in 2012, the year covered by the reports that each lawmaker had to file in 2013.
The median net worth for members of the House and Senate was $1,008,767 – up 4.4 percent, according to the analysis, conducted by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, which examines the influence of money on politics in Washington.
The wealthiest member of Congress, as has previously been the case, was Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who had a net worth that ranged between $330 million and $598 million, a significant chunk of which he earned through the Viper car-alarm system that is marketed and sold by a company he owned.
The poorest was Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., who listed debts of about $12.1 million, mostly due to loans on a family farm.
According to the center’s website, the average net worth and rankings of Western New York’s three members of the House of Representatives stacked up as follows: Chris Collins, R-Clarence, was No. 15 with an average net worth of $59,104,518; Tom Reed, R-Corning, was No. 343 with $497,504 and Brian M. Higggins, D-Buffalo, was No. 490 with $32,004.
Of New York’s representation in the Charles E. Schumer was No. 73 with an average net worth of $702,008, and Kirstin Gillibrand was No. 90 with $291,002.
Democrats and Republicans in Congress were about equally wealthy, with Democrats boasting a median net worth of $1.04 million, compared to $1 million for Republicans. The averages in both cases were up compared to the previous year, when the numbers were $990,000 and $907,000, respectively, the analysis showed.
The biggest stock holding among members of Congress is General Electric, followed by Wells Fargo and Microsoft, according to the analysis.
Lawmakers’ rise in wealth takes place as both parties are trying to position themselves as sympathetic to the jump in inequity in the United States, as the rich have gotten much richer while the median family income has been relatively flat or has declined, depending on different statistical measurements.
The growing divergence may help explain why Congress, beyond the politics involved, would allow unemployment benefits to expire, critics said.
“Congress not only seems more responsive to policy desires of the very rich, but, increasingly, they are the very rich,” said Josh Bivens, director of research at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal, research group that focuses on income inequity. “They probably know far fewer people cut off by the failure to extend unemployment benefits, and that makes them less sensitive to just how much damage that cutoff is going to cause.”