Before he ran for Congress in 1974, Gary Myers was a steel mill worker. His campaign set him back $33,000. Today, Myers’ seat is occupied by Mike Kelly, a wealthy car dealer who married into the Phillips oil fortune. His campaign cost $1.2 million. That contrast is emblematic of the widening wealth gap between members of Congress and their constituents, the Washington Post observes. Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of House members more than doubled—from $280,000 to $725,000—even as median household income declined by $100 to $20,500.
Congressmen have always been better off than average Americans, but in Myers’ Congress working people weren’t unheard of—there was even a “Blue Collar Caucus.” In 1984, one in five House members had no net worth; today that’s one in 12. The gap has grown in tandem with the overall gap between wealthy and poor Americans, as well as with the cost of campaigns, which has more than quadrupled since 1976. It’s a notable trend both because lawmakers’ life experiences tend to influence their politics, and because studies have shown that rising inequality correlates with increased political polarization.