Many members of Congress live with a roommate. Others famously sleep in their office when Congress is in session. The ones who do all tell the same story: Washington D.C. costs too much to maintain a second home in the city, even on a politician's salary.
But what is that salary, exactly? Here is how the money works on a senator's side.
How Much Do Senators Make?
This is the simple part of the question. Members of the U.S. Senate receive $174,000 per year in salary. This was last raised in 2009 from $169,300 per year. This is the same amount of money that members of the House of Representatives receive.
The majority and minority leaders in each chamber get a little more, bringing their annual salary to $193,400 a year. The speaker of the House makes $223,500.
This pay scale, while generous compared to the average American income, is actually quite low relative to the level of accomplishment for a typical member of Congress. For example, 55% of Senators have law degrees. A first-year law school graduate at most major law firms can expect to make up to $190,000 a year, often with an additional bonus worth approximately $15,000 - $25,000. It's also, less surprisingly, quite a bit lower than how much the president makes.
A mid-career lawyer could earn well over $400,000 a year at most major firms. Lawyers who transition into government service take an enormous reduction in potential income, at least during their years in office. This holds true for most professionals.
However it is still worth noting that the median income for a 60-year-old (the current median age of a U.S. senator) is a little over $51,000 per year. Relative to the general population, senators receive generous pay.
Benefits for Senators
In addition to their salaries, members of Congress get several forms of benefit packages. The main ones include:
- Health Insurance - Senators, like members of the House, receive health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. They can choose any plan on the District of Columbia's marketplace, however for all gold-level plans (and only for gold-level plans) the government subsidizes 72% of the cost.
- Retirement - Most senators receive their retirement plan through the Federal Employees' Retirement System, although some who joined Congress prior to 2003 may be covered by the former Civil Service Retirement System. Under this plan a senator receives both access to a tax-advantaged retirement plan and an annuity-based pension. Only senators who serve for more than five years can collect on the pension plan, and how much it ultimately pays depends on several factors including years of service, age at retirement and salary history (pegged to the highest three years of earning). The pension cannot amount to more than 80% of the senator's final salary.
- Office, travel and staff budget - senators receive an allowance for their professional need. While this allowance ranges based on an individual's needs, the average appropriation is worth a little over $3.3 million. While a multimillion dollar sum, this money goes to paying staff salaries, buying office equipment and paying for the considerable amount of travel required of a senator.
How Wealthy are Senators?
There is the salary that we all pay to U.S. senators, then there is their wealth. That's a dramatically different story. Senators might make a comfortable upper-middle class income, but most of them live a very upper class lifestyle.
According to public disclosures, the median wealth of a senator is $3.2 million in total assets. This is more than three times the median representative in the House (who is worth $900,000) and is at least more than 10 times as much as the average American household is worth. It does not necessarily include the home value for these senators, as they aren't required to disclose this information.
That said, the wealthiest members of Congress are concentrated in the House of Representatives. All of the six wealthiest Congressmen and women are representatives. The top 10 wealthiest members of Congress are evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, although historically Republican members of Congress tend to be disproportionately wealthy compared to Democrats overall.
That said, only slightly more than half of current senators are worth $1 million or more. The rest are worth less, and according to Roll Call, 14 senators currently have negative net worth.