Joe Biden has long touted his working-class bona fides, claiming to be the poorest member of Congress for most of his time there and earning the moniker “Middle-Class Joe” as a result. Following a 44-year career in the federal government that spanned both the Senate and the White House, Biden has certainly made up for lost time. Through a book deal and the lucrative paid speaker circuit, “Middle-Class Joe” is now a multimillionaire.
So, why has Biden suddenly come into such fortune after stubbornly refusing to identify with the upper class for over four decades? Here’s a closer look at how “Middle-Class Joe” got rich in a short period of time.
Birthdate: Nov. 20, 1942
Net worth: $9 million
Sources of income: Book deal, paid speaking engagements
Career highlights: Vice president of the United States from 2009-2017; Delaware state senator for 44 years
How Much Is Joe Biden Worth?
Joe Biden’s current net worth is estimated at $9 million by Forbes, based on his campaign’s release of state and federal tax returns from 2016-2018. That would put him well ahead of rival presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and his $2.5 million net worth, but behind Elizabeth Warren, who clocks in at $12 million — high figures that nonetheless pale in comparison to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his $50 billion-plus net worth.
Since leaving office, Biden has moved to ensure a sound financial future for him and his family. Between a book deal and high-paying speaking engagements, Biden and his wife, Jill, pulled down $11 million in 2017 — his first year out of office since the Nixon administration — and another $4.6 million in 2018.
How Did Joe Biden Make His Money?
The moniker “Middle-Class Joe” isn’t exactly right. While relying on his Senate salary alone might have made Biden one of the poorest members of Congress, it still represents the sort of wages that most Americans dream of. When Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972, senators were earning $42,500 per annum, or a little over $250,000 a year after adjusting for inflation. His last year in the Senate — 2008 — saw that salary climb to $169,300, but that’s more of a pay cut after factoring in inflation. In today’s dollars, that represents just a little over $200,000. During most of his time as vice president, Biden’s salary jumped to $230,700, and he and his wife — who is a community college professor — reported a gross annual income of just under $400,000 for 2016.
Anyone earning the equivalent of over $200,000 a year for over 40 years can hardly be considered middle class. However, Biden and his family have been a lot closer to that reality than almost any of his Senate colleagues. Biden borrowed against life insurance policies to cover expenses beginning in 1983, and he took out mortgages against the value of his Delaware home. In fact, OpenSecrets reported that the vice president was almost $1 million in debt in 2014, a time when he was struggling with his son Beau’s cancer diagnosis and seriously considering selling the family home to make ends meet — until then-President Barack Obama offered him a personal loan to avoid such a fate.
However, Biden’s upper-middle-class struggles from his time in office are likely a distant memory now that he has been earning more than $200,000 a pop for some of his speaking engagements. But over half of the $15 million that the Bidens pulled down in 2017-2018 can be attributed to the deal they signed with Flatiron Books for two nonfiction works by Biden and a third co-written with his wife. The deal was reportedly worth $8 million, and the Bidens announced afterward that they were purchasing a six-bedroom vacation home in Delaware that same year.
Joe Biden’s Background
Joe Biden’s long career in public service has seen him committing almost his entire life to politics. Biden was initially born in the blue-collar Pennsylvania town of Scranton but moved to Delaware at age 11. From there, Biden’s career path only briefly detoured from politics — he was a defense attorney in Wilmington, Delaware, for two years in the late 1960s — before he served on the New Castle County Council from 1970-1972. His election to the Senate at age 29 made him the fifth-youngest person ever to serve in the body. From there, he won reelection six times and ultimately became Delaware’s longest-serving senator before leaving to become vice president in 2009.
Biden’s long and storied Senate career subsequently saw him intersecting with a number of major events from American history, including serving as the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the controversial Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing and introducing the Violence Against Women Act in 1990. Biden also ran for president twice. His campaign for the 1988 nomination would be derailed over allegations of plagiarizing a speech and making false claims about his academic record. Biden made another attempt 20 years later in 2008, and while he again failed to secure the nomination, he wound up making the ticket as the vice presidential candidate under Obama and serving two terms in the White House.
Biden’s life has been marked by great tragedy. Mere weeks after his election to the Senate in 1972, his wife, Neilia, and daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car accident that also seriously injured his sons, Hunter and Beau. Decades later, Beau Biden — a veteran of the Iraq War and the attorney general of Delaware — was diagnosed with brain cancer that would ultimately take his life in 2015 at age 46.
Joe Biden’s 2020 Campaign Platform
As of mid-January, polling aggregator FiveThirtyEight has pegged Biden’s prospects of winning the Democratic primary at about 40%, with a national polling average of 26.8% — ahead of Sanders at 18.7% and Warren at 16.1%. However, the Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire — the two first states to vote — are less sanguine about a Biden presidency. Biden leads Sanders by just a single percentage point in Iowa and trails him by the same margin in New Hampshire.
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Thus far, Biden’s campaign has appeared to focus on positioning him as a relative moderate who will carry on the political legacy of his former boss, Obama. His strongest message revolves around restoring the strength of the middle class with steps like increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, protecting worker rights and organized labor, and other policies focused on growing wages for middle- and working-class Americans.
While other Democratic candidates are pushing for more aggressive healthcare reform plans, Biden has advocated building on Obamacare by largely keeping its structure intact and adding a public option that would be available to anyone. He has also introduced a plan that would strive to convert the U.S. to a 100% clean energy economy by 2050, and has proclaimed his intent to pursue immigration reform that would push for a more humane process and roll back the Trump’s administration’s policies.
Biden is also touting an abrupt turn in American foreign policy under his presidency, promising to return the U.S. to a position of global leadership and away from the more aggressive, isolationist nature of the current administration. His platform emphasizes bolstering important alliances as the primary way of confronting international threats like Russia’s cyber warfare or China’s trade policies.
Biden has clearly opted to cash in after leaving office, but his claims about being among the poorest members of the Senate over the decades are largely accurate. While no senator can really be considered middle class, Biden’s claim to that title was more reasonable than almost anyone else’s. However, after his many years of public service concluded in 2017 — unless he is elected as president in 2020 — he has followed a path to riches similar to those of other major political figures, relying on six-figure speaking engagements and book deals to build a sizable nest egg for him and his family.
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