Courtesy of Occupy Democrats, with over 36,000 likes and 45,000 shares. This meme claims Mitch McConnell is the richest Senator and Kentucky is the poorest state. How does this stack up to reality?
Is Mitch McConnell the Richest Senator?
No. There are wide-ranging estimates of McConnell’s wealth, but Open Secrets puts the latest number from 2016 at $26.7 million. However, this isn’t an exact measurement, as net worth is difficult to ascertain. Most people don’t even know their own net worth! The Open Secrets methodology gives a minimum and maximum net worth for each politician, and uses the average for their estimate. In McConnell’s case, the range was $10.5-43.3 million.
For 2016, this currently ranks him 4th among Senators, but this appears to be a misnomer, as the 2016 data isn’t available for most Senators yet. In both 2015 and 2014 (when Chris Rock’s tweet appeared) McConnell was ranked 10th. Since his estimated net worth actually decreased slightly in 2016, it’s doubtful he rose to #4, and is probably still #10.
Here are the rankings for wealthiest senators using the latest data available from 2015:
- Mark Warner (D-VA)- estimated net worth of $238 million (range $89-385 million)
- Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)- $81.7 million (range $65-98 million)
- Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)- $79 million (range $47-110 million)
- Bob Corker (R-TN)- $69.5 million (range $21-117 million)
- Claire McCaskill (D-MO)- $60 million (range $48-71 million)
- James Risch (R-ID)- $54.7 million (range $20-89 million)
- John Hoeven (R-ND)- $45.6 million (range $17-73 million)
- Ron Johnson (R-WI)- $36.7 million (range $13-60 million)
- David Perdue (R-GA)- $30.1 million (range $15-45 million)
- Mitch McConnell (R-KY)- $26.9 million (range $10-43 million)
While McConnell is certainly among the wealthiest, he’s far from the richest. Interestingly, the top 3 richest Senators are Democrats (though Darrel Issa (R-CA) is the wealthiest in Congress at $330 million).
Is Kentucky the Poorest State?
No. It’s debatable what statistic to use in determining which state is poorest, but Kentucky doesn’t top any of them. One is median household income, where Kentucky ranks 45th out of 50 states at $46,659. Mississippi is the worst at $41,754, and Maryland tops the list at $78,945. The US average is $57,617.
If GDP per capita is used, Kentucky ranks 43rd.
Another measure would be poverty rate. According to the Census data, Kentucky ranks 46th out of 50 states. Again, Mississippi is last, while New Hampshire is first. However, if we use the Supplemental Poverty Measure (which adjusts for cost of living), Kentucky fares slightly better at 39th. California ranks worst and New Hampshire remains best.
Both of these claims are proven wrong by the data. Mitch McConnell is neither the richest Senator, nor is Kentucky the poorest state. What could be said, is that McConnell is a wealthy Senator and Kentucky is a poor state. But, linking the two is spurious and shallow. Poor inner city areas tend to vote Democrat over and over, and poor rural areas tend to vote Republican. Their woes likely lie deeper than which political party is in power. A more in-depth look at Eastern Kentucky reveals some reasons for the poverty. Most significant is the decline of coal mining and other industries in the region.