Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks during a joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC (AFP / Pool / Drew Angerer)

US Congress has not raised its salary since last federal minimum wage increase

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A Facebook post shared more than 55,000 times claims that members of the US Congress raised their own salaries nine times over the last 18 years but increased the federal minimum wage only once. But experts and government records say that while Congress established an automatic yearly salary increase based on changing labor costs, it has voted to deny itself a raise since 2009, the year of the last federal minimum wage increase.

“Congress has raised the minimum wage only once in the last 18 years but raised their own salaries nine times,” reads the Facebook post, which was shared in December 2015 but continues to circulate in March 2021.

Screenshot of a search on social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle, taken on March 15, 2021

The US Department of Labor charts federal minimum wage requirements here, and says that the last increase -- from $6.55 to $7.25 hourly -- took effect on July 24, 2009. 

Because the legislation used a phased-in approach to the increases, the federal minimum wage rose in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Prior to that, it had not risen since September 1997.

Asher Hildebrand, associate professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, addressed the claim in an email.

“The opposite is closer to the truth: since the last minimum wage increase took effect in 2009, Congress has voted to deny itself a pay raise for twelve consecutive years -- which, when adjusted for inflation, has been equivalent to a 17 percent pay cut,” Hildebrand told AFP.

Director of the Atlantic Council’s GeoEconomics Center Josh Lipsky agreed, saying by phone: “I think the claim is both inaccurate and misleading.”

“The heart of the claim is that Congress is giving themselves a pay raise while not increasing the minimum wage, and that is just untrue,” he said, explaining that they have frozen their salaries every year since the last minimum wage increase.

Since 2009, members of Congress have earned $174,000 per year, with extra pay for leadership positions.

Government documents also serve to debunk the claim.

Article I, Section 6 of the US Constitution reads: “The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States.”

As the legislative branch, Congress does therefore control its own pay -- with the stipulation that changes cannot go into effect until after elections.

A report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which falls under the Library of Congress and conducts public policy research, details information about congressional salaries.

It says that “specific legislation was last used to provide increases in 1990 and 1991.” 

According to the report, Congress has not actively voted nine times to “raise their own salaries,” in the last 18 years, as the post claims.

Rather, the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 set up an automatic adjustment schedule using a formula based on changing labor costs.

The CRS report outlines the years in which Congress has accepted and denied a raise. Since the Facebook post was first shared in 2015, but continues to circulate in 2021, AFP evaluated its validity for both timelines.

According to the CRS report and this Senate salary chart, between 1997 and 2015, Congress allowed a raise to go into effect 10 times: 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009.

It denied itself a raise in nine separate years -- in 1997, 1999, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

The 18 years prior to 2021 saw six pay raises -- in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009. 

But Congress blocked the automatic increase from going into effect in 13 different years -- 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Federal minimum wage increases took effect in 1997, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

As part of his 2021 Covid-19 relief plan, President Joe Biden’s administration proposed a federal minimum wage hike to $15 an hour, but the measure was not included in the final version of the bill.

AFP Fact Check previously debunked the claim that the Covid-19 relief plan included a bonus for members of the House of Representatives.