Congressional pay since 1855, in 2012 dollars

Members of our politically intractable Congress might not qualify for 1 percent status based on their Senate or House paychecks alone. But they do earn more than most people. Has this always been the case? We merged data from the Congressional Research Service and an inflation-adjustment table to see.

The first thing you might notice is the roller-coaster nature of the inflation-adjusted salaries in the chart above. This is caused by pay increases that outpaced inflation in a particular year followed by static salaries failing to keep up with inflation over time — indicated by an effective salary decrease compared to the economy.

Actual decreases in the dollar amount of congressional pay were very rare, as the table below shows.

It’s important to remember that the expense of living in, say, 1855 was very different from what it costs today, so a direct comparison of that year’s inflation-adjusted salary of $78,000 with 2012’s $174,000 might not be valid. For example, the cost of renting a place to live in today’s District of Columbia, where money is power, is likely quite different from the days of the mid-19th century, when the sparsely populated city was a literal backwater. And, of course, there was no income tax in those days.

SOURCES: Congressional Research Service; inflation data from Oregon State University

Year Salary Inflation multipier 2012 dollars
1855 $3,000 0.038 $78,947
1856 $3,000 0.037 $81,081
1857 $3,000 0.038 $78,947
1858 $3,000 0.036 $83,333
1859 $3,000 0.036 $83,333
1860 $3,000 0.036 $83,333
1861 $3,000 0.038 $78,947
1862 $3,000 0.044 $68,182
1863 $3,000 0.055 $54,545
1864 $3,000 0.068 $44,118
1865 $5,000 0.071 $70,423
1866 $5,000 0.069 $72,464
1867 $5,000 0.064 $78,125
1868 $5,000 0.062 $80,645
1869 $5,000 0.059 $84,746
1870 $5,000 0.057 $87,719
1871 $7,500 0.053 $141,509
1872 $7,500 0.053 $141,509
1873 $7,500 0.052 $144,231
1874 $5,000 0.050 $100,000
1875 $5,000 0.048 $104,167
1876 $5,000 0.047 $106,383
1877 $5,000 0.046 $108,696
1878 $5,000 0.044 $113,636
1879 $5,000 0.044 $113,636
1880 $5,000 0.044 $113,636
1881 $5,000 0.044 $113,636
1882 $5,000 0.044 $113,636
1883 $5,000 0.044 $113,636
1884 $5,000 0.043 $116,279
1885 $5,000 0.042 $119,048
1886 $5,000 0.041 $121,951
1887 $5,000 0.041 $121,951
1888 $5,000 0.041 $121,951
1889 $5,000 0.040 $125,000
1890 $5,000 0.040 $125,000
1891 $5,000 0.040 $125,000
1892 $5,000 0.040 $125,000
1893 $5,000 0.039 $128,205
1894 $5,000 0.037 $135,135
1895 $5,000 0.037 $135,135
1896 $5,000 0.037 $135,135
1897 $5,000 0.036 $138,889
1898 $5,000 0.036 $138,889
1899 $5,000 0.036 $138,889
1900 $5,000 0.037 $135,135
1901 $5,000 0.037 $135,135
1902 $5,000 0.037 $135,135
1903 $5,000 0.038 $131,579
1904 $5,000 0.039 $128,205
1905 $5,000 0.038 $131,579
1906 $5,000 0.039 $128,205
1907 $7,500 0.041 $182,927
1908 $7,500 0.040 $187,500
1909 $7,500 0.040 $187,500
1910 $7,500 0.041 $182,927
1911 $7,500 0.041 $182,927
1912 $7,500 0.042 $178,571
1913 $7,500 0.043 $174,419
1914 $7,500 0.044 $170,455
1915 $7,500 0.044 $170,455
1916 $7,500 0.047 $159,574
1917 $7,500 0.056 $133,929
1918 $7,500 0.066 $113,636
1919 $7,500 0.075 $100,000
1920 $7,500 0.087 $86,207
1921 $7,500 0.078 $96,154
1922 $7,500 0.073 $102,740
1923 $7,500 0.074 $101,351
1924 $7,500 0.074 $101,351
1925 $10,000 0.076 $131,579
1926 $10,000 0.077 $129,870
1927 $10,000 0.076 $131,579
1928 $10,000 0.074 $135,135
1929 $10,000 0.074 $135,135
1930 $10,000 0.073 $136,986
1931 $10,000 0.066 $151,515
1932 $9,000 0.060 $150,000
1933 $8,500 0.057 $149,123
1934 $9,500 0.058 $163,793
1935 $10,000 0.060 $166,667
1936 $10,000 0.061 $163,934
1937 $10,000 0.063 $158,730
1938 $10,000 0.061 $163,934
1939 $10,000 0.061 $163,934
1940 $10,000 0.061 $163,934
1941 $10,000 0.064 $156,250
1942 $10,000 0.071 $140,845
1943 $10,000 0.075 $133,333
1944 $10,000 0.077 $129,870
1945 $10,000 0.078 $128,205
1946 $10,000 0.085 $117,647
1947 $12,500 0.097 $128,866
1948 $12,500 0.105 $119,048
1949 $12,500 0.104 $120,192
1950 $12,500 0.105 $119,048
1951 $12,500 0.113 $110,619
1952 $12,500 0.115 $108,696
1953 $12,500 0.116 $107,759
1954 $12,500 0.117 $106,838
1955 $22,500 0.117 $192,308
1956 $22,500 0.118 $190,678
1957 $22,500 0.122 $184,426
1958 $22,500 0.126 $178,571
1959 $22,500 0.127 $177,165
1960 $22,500 0.129 $174,419
1961 $22,500 0.130 $173,077
1962 $22,500 0.132 $170,455
1963 $22,500 0.133 $169,173
1964 $22,500 0.135 $166,667
1965 $30,000 0.137 $218,978
1966 $30,000 0.141 $212,766
1967 $30,000 0.145 $206,897
1968 $30,000 0.152 $197,368
1969 $42,500 0.160 $265,625
1970 $42,500 0.169 $251,479
1971 $42,500 0.176 $241,477
1972 $42,500 0.182 $233,516
1973 $42,500 0.193 $220,207
1974 $42,500 0.215 $197,674
1975 $44,600 0.234 $190,598
1976 $44,600 0.248 $179,839
1977 $57,500 0.264 $217,803
1978 $57,500 0.284 $202,465
1979 $60,662 0.316 $191,968
1980 $60,662 0.359 $168,975
1981 $60,662 0.396 $153,187
1982 $60,662 0.420 $144,433
1983 $69,800 0.434 $160,829
1984 $72,600 0.453 $160,265
1985 $75,100 0.469 $160,128
1986 $77,400 0.477 $162,264
1987 $89,500 0.495 $180,808
1988 $89,500 0.515 $173,786
1989 $89,500 0.540 $165,741
1990 $98,400 0.569 $172,935
1991 $125,100 0.593 $210,961
1992 $129,500 0.611 $211,948
1993 $133,600 0.629 $212,401
1994 $133,600 0.645 $207,132
1995 $133,600 0.664 $201,205
1996 $133,600 0.683 $195,608
1997 $133,600 0.699 $191,130
1998 $136,700 0.710 $192,535
1999 $136,700 0.726 $188,292
2000 $141,300 0.750 $188,400
2001 $145,100 0.771 $188,197
2002 $150,000 0.784 $191,327
2003 $154,700 0.801 $193,134
2004 $158,100 0.823 $192,102
2005 $162,100 0.851 $190,482
2006 $165,200 0.878 $188,155
2007 $165,200 0.903 $182,946
2008 $169,300 0.938 $180,490
2009 $174,000 0.934 $186,296
2010 $174,000 0.950 $183,158
2011 $174,000 0.980 $177,551
2012 $174,000 1.000 $174,000
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