The American public is frustrated with Congress. There is a constant stream of bickering between the two parties and two chambers, while the country falls deeper into debt to the tune of $1.3 billion per day. Congressional approval ratings are an abysmal 13 percent. To top it all off, Congress is in the middle of a five-week recess. Followed by their return on September 8, where they are only expected to be in session for 15 days before they adjourn and head home to try and get re-elected. With such little action from our lawmakers and so much of their time spent elsewhere, there is no better opportunity than now to look into congressional compensation and the many financial perks that go along with being a member of Congress.
The Taxpayers Protection Alliance and Our Generation just released a report that shows rank and file members of Congress make $174,000 per year. In addition to a salary of $174,000 per year, which by itself puts DC representatives among the highest-paid 5 percent of American workers, they also receive more generous fringe benefits than typical American employees. In fact, in 2014, congressional compensation including benefits totals around $286,000 per year.
One way to measure the relative size of congressional salaries is to compare them to the average wages earned by private-sector employees. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an average full-time employee in the United States earns an annual pay of $55,048. This means that members of Congress make 3.2 times more than the average full-time American worker.
The perks really add up.
In addition to paid time off and U.S. taxpayer contributions toward the health and life insurance plans, members of Congress receive contributions toward retirement benefits as well. These contributions equal around 47 percent of their annual salaries, or about $82,000. In contrast, typical employees in the private sector are eligible only for a 401(k) type pension plan and do not qualify for retirement health coverage. Thus, Congressional pensions are considerably more generous than those offered to private sector employees.
Until the 1850s, members of Congress were paid on a per diem basis of $6-$8 for each day that Congress was in session. Although the number of days in session varied from year to year, members of Congress who were in session around 160 days per year made annual pay of around $960 to $1,280. During this same time period, service in Congress was considered part-time employment and members of Congress typically had additional employment outside of their duties in Congress. In fact, this tradition is still the norm in many state legislatures.