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Are There Too Many 'Hillionaires' In Washington?

House Oversight Committee chairman and megamillionaire Darrell Issa is reportedly worth more than $355 million.
J. Scott Applewhite
House Oversight Committee chairman and megamillionaire Darrell Issa is reportedly worth more than $355 million.

Capitol Hill is rife with rich people — "hillionaires," if you will.

Writing in The New York Times, Nicholas Carnes, a public policy professor at Duke University, points out that millionaires show up in only 3 percent of American families. But more than 60 percent of the Senate, most members of the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court — and the president himself — are millionaires.

According to a roster of the wealthiest people in Congress, recently released by CQ Roll Call, there are at least 50 members — from both sides of the aisle — who have a net worth of $6.67 million or more. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is at the peak with an estimated worth of more than $355 million. To put that money pile in perspective, Roll Call reports, the median household income in Issa's home district is about $68,000, so "Issa is more than 5,000 times richer than his average constituent household."

Carnes believes that there should be more members of the country's working class in Congress. "If working-class Americans were a political party, that party would have made up more than half the country since the start of the 20th century," he writes. "But legislators from that party — those who last worked in blue-collar jobs before entering politics — would never have held more than 2 percent of the seats in Congress."

Carnes opines that it's time for citizens who care about financial equality in politics to support more working-class candidates.

So how can Americans make this happen? We ask Nick to pinpoint:

3 Things Voters Can Do To Put Working-Class People In Congress

1: "Think about the working-class people you know who you think would make good political leaders, and encourage them to run for office," says Nick. "Offer to support them however you can."

2: Find out where the candidates on your ballot stand on the issues, Carnes says, but also find out about their backgrounds — especially how they've earned a living. He suggests supporting qualified candidates who have firsthand experience working in manual labor and service industry jobs. "In the long run," Nick says, "they tend to be the toughest, most reliable supporters of the needs of middle- and working-class Americans."

3: And, Nick advises, contact the director of your state's or county's branch of the Republican or Democratic Party, and tell them that you want to be able to vote for a great candidate who's had real experience in manual labor or service industry jobs. "Party leaders often recruit and support potential candidates," he says. "They help get talented people into the political pipeline that leads to everything from school boards and city councils to statehouses and Congress."

The Protojournalist: A sandbox for reportorial innovation. @NPRtpj

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Linton Weeks
Linton Weeks joined NPR in the summer of 2008, as its national correspondent for Digital News. He immediately hit the campaign trail, covering the Democratic and Republican National Conventions; fact-checking the debates; and exploring the candidates, the issues and the electorate.
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