Most people don't earn six figures every year, but they sure would like to. By comparison, members of Congress, in both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, make at least $174,000 a year. And, other federal politicians and presidential Cabinet members earn even more. Are these politicos worthy of the big bucks? What if they were just out in the world, trying to earn a living?
Online salary database PayScale.com has run the numbers to answer the question: How do federal politician and Cabinet member salaries compare to the people with whom they graduated from school? According to PayScale.com, some graduated from medical school and could potentially be earning more than they do today, but others only finished high school and are way above their typical fellow graduates in earnings. Let's take a look at what PayScale.com discovered.
What federal politicians and Cabinet members earn
To start, do you know what federal politician and Cabinet members actually earn every year? Here is a breakdown:
- Congress members (Representatives and Senators): $174,000
- Senate and House Majority/Minority Leaders: $193,400
- Cabinet members: $199,700
- Speaker of the House: $223,500
- Vice President: $230,700
- President: $400,000
What Congress and Cabinet members would earn otherwise
There is a mix of results from PayScale.com's research, but the majority of Congress and Cabinet members are doing better than they likely would in the private sector.
Of the 550 U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and Cabinet members that PayScale.com studied, 44 earn a paycheck that is less than or similar to the typical pay they could earn based upon their educational background. Of these 44, 15 hold a doctor of medicine (MD) degree, 24 hold a law degree (JD) and five hold a master's of business administration (MBA) degree. MDs and graduates of a few select law and business schools, like Harvard, Wharton or University of Virginia, are the only ones to take a pay cut in their elected positions or the Cabinet.
According to PayScale.com, the median earnings for people in the Unites States between ages 55-64 (which is the median age of U.S. Congress and Cabinet members) who hold at least a bachelor's degree and work full-time is $73,700. This income is far below what Congress and Cabinet members earn. Perhaps a congressional campaign would be a smart next career move.
What about Obama and Biden?
The commander-in-chief and his right-hand man are both paid well, by most people's standards. Would they likely earn more?
As a Harvard Law School graduate, President Obama has some serious earning power. Obama attended Harvard Law School and graduated with his JD in 1991. For those with the same educational background, the median pay is $198,000, which is much lower than the presidential pay of $400,000. However, the salary for the top 10 percent of earners who graduated from Harvard Law School at a similar time is over $400,000. Thus, the presidential pay is a loss if Obama were in the top 10 percent of earners in his class, and you could argue that as an editor of the prestigious Law Review, Obama should be.
Joe Biden graduated with a law degree from Syracuse University College in 1968. According to PayScale's research, his classmates from law school are earning, on average, about $132,000 a year. That means that his gig as vice president, where he is paid $230,700 a year, has him earning 175 percent of his likely, average earnings. Congrats, Joe. That's a nice outcome after a long political career.
Do Democrats or Republicans earn more?
Do Democrats outpace their peers financially more often than Republicans, or vice versa? No, it turns out. The results are pretty even: 91 percent of Democrats and 92 percent of Republicans are earning more, on average, than they likely would have outside of being members of Congress.
Those with the biggest pay boosts are the 31 senators and representatives who have only a high school diploma, certificate or associate's degrees. Others earning more than expected are the 13 members of Congress with master's degrees in social work, education, or divinity.
Are you curious whether your representative or a particular Cabinet member is earning more or less than they likely would be in the private sector? See PayScale's list of federal politician salaries and how their earnings stack up outside of elected office.