Are Blacks and Latinos The Brokest Lawmakers?
No racial minorities make list of richest members of Congress
Imagine jockeying for media attention and Capitol Hill influence among your millionaire “power broker” colleagues, if your personal wealth is estimated to be just thousands of dollars -- or worst, millions of dollars in the red.
According to a list published last week by The Washington Post, black and Latino lawmakers in Congress are among the least wealthy of the 435-member body. No blacks or Latinos appear in the Post’s list of top 25 wealthiest lawmakers.
The historic wealth disparity between whites and minorities is not a new phenomenon and seems to be a reality for a significant number of blacks and Hispanics elected to Congress. There are 44 African American and 26 Latino members of the House of Representatives.
In 2010, white Americans had 22 times more wealth than blacks and 15 times more than Hispanics, according to recently released Census Bureau statistics. That gap only worsened during the Great Recession, when household net worth plummeted 60 percent for minorities compared to 23 percent for whites between 2005 and 2010.
Tatjana Meschede, a research director for the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University, told CNN Money that the disparity makes it more difficult for minorities to save money and accumulate wealth.
The good news is that lack of wealth does not appear to affect the influence a lawmaker has in Congress. But it certainly doesn’t hurt having money to help get you elected, says Henry Brady, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.
“In getting there, most of the research has suggested that you have to be pretty well off [as a candidate],” Brady said by phone. “It sure helped to be a Romney or a Bush.”
Political influence, however, is a separate matter altogether, Brady added.
“There’s no reason to believe that being rich makes you more likely to be at the [ideological] center, where influence is highest,” he said.
In 2010, 10-term Florida Rep. Corrine Brown, a Democrat, had an estimated wealth of $3,501.
Being in the bottom 25 doesn’t appear to bother her. Reached by phone last week, Brown spokesman David Simon said the congresswoman does not see her personal wealth as an obstacle to legislative achievement for Florida’s 3rd Congressional District. They include granting the congressional gold medal to the Montford Point Marines, the first African Americans to serve in the U.S. Marines, and securing funding for new operating rooms at a Miami veterans’ hospital.
The wealthiest member of Congress, Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California, had an estimated wealth of $448.1 million in 2010. A spokesman for Issa did not immediately return a request for comment.
The average net worth for members of the House is estimated at around $5 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.