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Wealth gap between Congress, citizens widens

Adriene Hill Dec 27, 2011

Adriene Hill: There’s a widening wealth gap between those in Congress and the people they represent. That’s the takeaway from a new Washington Post article.

Peter Whoriskey wrote the report and joins us now. Good morning.

Peter Whoriskey: Good morning.

Hill: So, what did you find?

Whoriskey: Well, we found that the net worth of a member of Congress has gone up two and a half times over the last 25 years, whereas the average American net worth has remained stagnant. These are figures that don’t include home equity, but the average American’s net worth is about $20,000 — whereas the averge member of Congress’ net worth was about $280,000 back in 1984, and is about $725,000 today — those are in 2009 dollars.

Hill: And why is it happening?

Whoriskey: That’s the big question. I think that the income inequality and wealth inequality in the United States in general probably has something to do with that. The second piece of that is specific to Congress, though, and the amount of money that it now takes to run a winning campaign — that’s gone up several times. So if you have some money, extra money lying around, and you can afford to spend it on a campaign, you’re more likely to win.

Hill: Why does this growing wealth gap between lawmakers and their constituents matter?

Whoriskey: It matters in that, there’s not a lot of research on this, but there was some pretty good research by a Duke University professor recently that showed that people of diffirent occupations vote differently. You can also see it in polls about how people feel about, say, taxes on the rich — if you’re not among them, you’re more likely to obviously think that they ought to be taxed a little higher.

Hill: Peter Whoriskey is a staff writer with the Washington Post. Thanks so much.

Whoriskey: Thank you.

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