(Photo: REUTERS/Jim Bourg)
Financial reports from congressional members have recently revealed that members of Congress are more similar to the wealthy one percent than they are to the 99 percent that the Occupy Wall Street movement represents.
National Public Radio reported back in November that Congress’ net-worth had risen 25 percent over the past two years despite the recession of 2008. Compared that to the 8 percent drop the average American’s net worth saw over the past 6 years, according to ABC News, and it is easy to see why average citizens are outraged over the cultural gap between them and the politicians they elect to represent their communities.
The New York Times reports that the median net worth of members of Congress is about $913,000 compared to the $100,000 for the general population.
Nearly half the members of Congress are millionaires. In contrast, only five percent of the general population is considered to be part of the millionaires club.
While Congress has typically been the career choice for the wealthy, the income gap between the members and their constituents has seemingly become wider within the last 10 years. Or perhaps, according to Alan J. Ziobrowski, a Georgia State professor, during tough economic times the gap may be more recognizable.
“With the American public feeling all this economic pain, people just resent it more,” Ziobrowski told The New York Times.
The income disparity leads to the question of whether members of Congress are insulated from understanding and thus fairly representing their constituents. Not many citizens can relate to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s exotic holiday vacation in Hawaii, for instance, where she is reportedly spending $10,000 a night to stay at a Four Seasons Resort.
Many are pointing to the financial disparity and saying that it explains why Congress appears so disconnected from the public and unable to compromise on budget negotiations.
"The growing disparity between the representatives and the represented means that there is a greater distance between the economic experience of Americans and those of lawmakers," The Washington Post reports.
However, Derek Thompson of The Atlantic isn’t so convinced. He believes that the wealth disparity actually explains nothing – or at least very little – as to why Congress appears out of touch.
“How meaningful is a shared economic experience between Americans and lawmakers? If politicians were poorer, for example, why do we think they would be better politicians?” writes Thompson.
“Washington's wealth has nothing to do with Washington's policies. Congress isn't disconnected from our economic problems. It's simply evenly divided between two parties with very different ideas about how to solve them,” he continues, “Polarization isn't a story about rising income inequality. It's a story about rising filibuster usage and procedural rules that allow the minority to block everything but a super-majority.”
Whatever the effect, it is safe to say that most Congressional members are not part of the 99 percent they represent.