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Members of Congress Are Guaranteed Pay Through Shutdowns. Can All of Them Afford to Forgo Paychecks?

While 800,000 federal employees went without pay during the five-week partial government shutdown, the 535 members of Congress were guaranteed pay under the Constitution. Over 100 members of Congress refused their paychecks in solidarity with unpaid workers or donated them to charity. But is this something every member of Congress can afford?

Despite the fact that every rank and file member of Congress makes the same annual salary of $174,000, data collected by Roll Call from the 115th Congress shows that, as of 2016, more than half the collective net worth of Congress was owned by just 12 members. Two-fifths of senators and representatives were millionaires, and the median net worth among congresspeople was $511,000. (Such data has not been yet been analyzed for the 116th Congress.)

The median salary of federal workers is $77,000, and one-fifth make less than $50,000 per year, according to the New York Times.

While Congress salaries are cushy by comparison, aides told the Washington Post that some members have personal financial obligations to meet and leaders did not want them to feel pressured into turning down their pay. Considering the high cost of living in Washington, D.C., on top of maintaining a residence in their home state plus potentially necessary payments for child care, college tuition, and care for elderly family members, it's understandable that some members of Congress may feel uncomfortable turning down a paycheck.

This data from Roll Call illustrates the distribution of net worth among the 535 members of the 115th Congress.