Americans got poorer as Congress' wealth doubled

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The financial divide between Americans and their lawmakers in Congress, which was wide a generation ago, is even wider now.

The Washington Post examined the net worth of members of the U.S. House of Representatives using financial disclosures. The newspaper found that while the wealth of an American family went down a bit since the mid-80s, precisely the opposite has been happening for the nation's lawmakers.

Over the last twenty five years, the median net worth of a member of the House more than doubled, to nearly three quarters of a million dollars.

In the wake of the financial crisis the U.S. saw political protests: First, the Tea Party, later, the Occupy Wall Street movement. A theme common to both was a disconnect between the nation's leaders and the average person.

Just the stats...
Median Net Worth (excluding home equity):
    1984: $20,648 for families; $280,000 for representatives
    2009: $20,500 for families; $725,056 for representatives

Rank of net worth of Utah Senators and Representatives:

Reporter Peter Whoriskey examined lawmakers' disclosures between 1984 and 2009, and found a House member's median financial worth more than doubled from $280,000 to $725,000.

"Over the same period, the average American's net worth has declined slightly, so the gap now between a member of congress and the people they represent is quite a bit wider," Whoriskey said. "The wealthy in the United States have become wealthier than everyone else, and since they were wealthier to begin with, it's only natural for them to become even wealthier."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah said the story does confirm some of the worst perceptions of Congress, such as being out of touch with common people.

"I think this is one of the reasons why. You have too many people in the body who aren't necessarily affected by some of these laws."

Another factor is the rising costs of campaigns.

"It's more and more expensive to run for office," said Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics. "You need someone who can afford to quit their job or at least take a leave."

According to, the numbers for Utah's delegation vary widely, with Democrat Jim Matheson ranking at 195th in the House, while Rob Bishop is 388th. Chaffetz says the number for his net worth seen here includes his home.

In the Senate, Orrin Hatch's net worth is estimated at near $4 million, while Mike Lee, whose liabilities include tens of thousands in a line of credit and a student loan, is listed at only $16,000.

Chaffetz was the only member of the delegation who agreed to be interviewed by KSL. The numbers in the Post story didn't include home equity and are based on averages of a range of figures. Critics argue Congress needs much more detailed disclosure rules, something Chaffetz says he strongly supports.


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John Daley


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