The Claim: Only 4% of Americans Are Millionaires vs. 51% of Congress
The United States is minting more millionaires every year, but the share of the rich in the general population is still eclipsed by the share of the wealthy in Congress.
A viral Facebook post from July 2019 who has found new life online tries to illustrate this point, but is missing the mark on a key detail.
The meme says that only 4% of Americans are millionaires, compared to 51% of members of Congress, adding, “Remember this when a politician talks about income inequality.”
The complaint was first published on July 23, 2019, and it has been shared about 180,000 times as of June 8. But it saw an increase in activity almost two years later, with commentators debating its accuracy (and why officials are disproportionately wealthy).
“A true story,” replied one commentator.
Not so fast. While estimates from the Center for Responsive Politics indeed show the majority of members of Congress have a net worth of over $ 1 million, the message is extinguished on the general population.
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The Facebook user who first shared the post did not respond to a request for comment.
Millionaires in the United States
Credit Suisse publishes an annual report which analyzes, among other things, the number of millionaires around the world.
The United States had about 17.4 million of the 42.2 million millionaires in the world in 2018, the report that would have been in effect at the time of the viral publication on Facebook.
At that time, the American adult population was approximately 243 million, which means that approximately 7.2% of American adults were millionaires. If children are also included, the US population grows to 326 million in 2018; 5.3% would have been millionaires.
In either calculation, the 4% cited in the 2019 Facebook post is off.
More recent data suggests that the proportion of millionaires in the United States is even higher, although details vary depending on the source.
Credit Suisse 2020 Update said about 8% of American adults are millionaires. The US Census Bureau said in a 2020 report that more than 10% of households had assets of more than $ 1 million in 2017. Financial Services Researchers in Phoenix MI said that about 6.7% of U.S. households were millionaires in 2019.
The user who shared the post did not respond to a request for further evidence to support the claim.
The 1996 book “The Millionaire Next Door” determined about 3.5% of the 100 million American households at the time had a net worth of over $ 1 million. It’s not the same number in the Facebook meme, but it’s the closest estimate USA TODAY could find to what is claimed in the claim.
Compared to the general population, Congress is made up of a disproportionate proportion of millionaires. But determining the number of wealthy people in Congress is more complicated.
Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate are required to file financial disclosure forms that are available to the public, but they do not report accurate accounts of their assets. Instead, they relate the value of assets and liabilities in ranges.
Personal residences not held for investment purposes and certain other significant assets should also not be disclosed.
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The Center for Responsive Policy compile these reports in a list to determine the richest members of Congress, based on the average between the high and low estimates of their net worth.
The group estimated that 229 members were millionaires out of 433 in 2018, the most recent year for which OpenSecrets compiled the data. In 2017, 273 out of 520 had an average net worth of over $ 1 million, according to his data.
That equates to about 52% – slightly behind the 51% in the Facebook meme, but close.
Checking the facts:No, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not worth $ 196 million
Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., Was the richest member of Congress in 2018 with an average of $ 214 million to his credit, according to OpenSecrets. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Ranked No.7, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., ranked 21st in 2018 data.
Our rating: Partly false
The claim that only 4% of Americans are millionaires compared to 51% of congressmen is PARTLY FALSE, our research shows. The Facebook post comes very close to being correct on the share of millionaires in Congress, but it underestimates the statistics for the general population. Recent estimates suggest that the share of the US population made up of millionaires may be double what the Post claims.
Our sources of fact-checking:
- Center for Responsive Politics, April 23, 2020, Majority of 116th Congress lawmakers are millionaires
- Credit Suisse, October 2018, Global Wealth Report 2018
- Credit Suisse, accessed June 7 The Global Wealth Report
- Credit Suisse, October 2018, Global Wealth Data Book 2018
- US Census Bureau, August 2020, Household wealth: 2017
- Kiplinger, May 28 Millionaires in America 2020: Top 50 States Ranked
- New York Times Archives, accessed June 7 The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of Rich Americans
- UNITED STATES TODAY, October 10, 2020, Checking the Facts: Misrepresentation of Average US Salaries and Congressional Millionaire Numbers
- PolitiFact, March 25, 2021, Democrat Tom Nelson is correct that two-thirds of U.S. senators are millionaires
- Center for Responsive Politics, accessed June 7 About the personal finance data methodology and OpenSecrets
- Center for Responsive Politics, accessed June 7 Net worth – 2018
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Our fact-checking work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.