Whatever your opinion of Elizabeth Warren as a Presidential candidate, she certainly has a fascinating rags-to-riches story to tell. Politics aside, hers is a classic Horatio Alger tale of hard work, struggle, and sudden breakthrough to becoming one of the richest politicians in the news today. So, what is Elizabeth Warren's Net Worth?
The American Dream
Warren was the youngest of four children growing up poor in Oklahoma in the 1950s and 1960s. Her father was a salesman for Montgomery Ward, one of the major department stores back in the day, but lost his job when he had a heart attack and could no longer keep up with the demands of the position. Her mother worked at the local Sears and Elizabeth waited tables at her aunt’s restaurant, and eventually her father secured a position as a maintenance man at a local apartment complex. It wasn’t pretty, but they made it through. One can only wonder to what extent the experience shaped Senator Warren’s political ideologies so many decades later.
Warren married and moved to Texas where she earned a degree in speech pathology and audiology from the University of Houston. She taught children with special needs for a year before deciding to attend law school, and eventually earned her law degree from Rutgers University. She chose to focus on community legal services – bankruptcy protection, writing wills, sorting through real estate deals, etc. By the 1980s, she was teaching law at various universities (including Harvard) and had become an increasingly sought-after consultant in cases involving bankruptcy or other forms of financial protection for the middle class. Along the way, she somehow found time to increasingly focus her research on consumer protection services and other issues no doubt familiar to her supporters today.
That Harvard gig, incidentally, is where she first ran into trouble by claiming on her resume that she was “Native American,” a designation which may have helped her secure such a position in the face of intense competition from less “diverse” candidates. Her claim to Native American ancestry would later by challenged by political opponents, most notably Donald Trump, who entertained supporters endlessly by using the issue as an opportunity to mock “Pocahontas” and make all sorts of related wisecracks. Warren would eventually apologize after a DNA test showed that while she did, in fact, have some Native American ancestry, it was relatively low compared to most Oklahomans and her claim was not entirely justified.
Whether her presumed ancestry was a factor or not, Warren used the opportunity to further build her reputation as a professor, a researcher, a community advocate, and a legal professional. While there’s no doubt some doors came open at just the right time, Warren proved adept at stepping through them and making the most of each opportunity. That’s how we like to think everything works in the United States of America, yes?
None of which explains how Elizabeth Warren's Net Worth, when combined with her current husband, ended up at around $12 million in 2019. So… where did that come from?
Dollars and Sense
While none of Warren’s wealth simply landed in her lap, she did benefit from having the right skills in the right places at the right times. According to Forbes, between her legal work, teaching, and investing, Warren’s wealth multiplied quickly:
Warren’s early financial disclosures also provide insight into the type of payments she received consulting on legal cases over the years. For example, she was paid more than $200,000 between 2008 and 2010 for working with Travelers Insurance on a case related to damages sought by asbestos victims, which landed in the Supreme Court. Warren also disclosed a $90,000 payment for serving as an expert witness on behalf of the law firm Kenny Nachwalter in 2010. The Miami firm was representing grocery store chains, including Kroger and Safeway, in a case alleging that financial firms such as Visa, Bank of America and Citibank had violated antitrust laws.
Between 2008 and 2018, Warren and Mann earned over $10 million, according to their tax returns. The filings show that about one third of that income came from Warren’s sole proprietorship, through which she makes money writing, teaching, consulting and investing.
In 2008, Warren was appointed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) to lead a Congressional Oversight Panel overseeing TARP – the Troubled Asset Relief Program. This was a government program intended to help the nation recover from the subprime mortgage crisis of the early 2000’s, and Warren’s first direct involvement in national politics. A few years later, she was chosen by President Obama to help create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She was elected Senator from Massachusetts in 2012 and has served in that position since.
And I supposed you’re already aware she’s a leading candidate for the Democratic nominee for President in 2020.
While politics pays better than, say, teaching public school or managing your local department store, it’s not a direct path to wealth by itself. Congressional salaries are generous, but only a fraction of what most office-holders could make in the private sector should they so choose. But being in office does give one a platform. It means name recognition, and a chance to promote one’s issues and ideas on a national or even international stage. More basically, it means that lots of people will buy your books.
Now all she had to do is write some. Which she did. Elizabeth Warren's Net Worth is the product of many different income streams and investment decisions, but it would certainly not be what it is today without her prolific writing. Warren’s tax returns show just short of a half-million in book royalties for 2017, and another $325,000 in 2018. Not bad, given that she didn’t even include wizards or vampires or dystopian battles to the death between warring factions.
Although, now that I think of it, maybe on that last example she kinda did.
Variety Is the Spice of (Fiscal) Life
Her legal work was lucrative, but not outside the norm for someone with similar qualifications. Her political income was solid, but average for a national office-holder. Her book deals were generous, but not beyond the average for what each title sold. Warren and her husband simply kept finding ways to profit while pursuing things they genuinely cared about personally and professionally. Combined with some timely real estate investments (their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was purchased in 1995 for $447,000. Today, it’s worth an estimated $3 million).
Another few million of Elizabeth Warren's Net Worth is from her and her husband’s investments in retirement funds and other traditional savings. In other words, they haven’t done anything particularly crazy to build such a generous nest egg – they’ve just done lots of things very well.
It’s not all about the income, of course. The Warrens practice what they preach when it comes to giving back. As The Street recently reported…
It's also worth noting that Warren puts her money where her mouth is on sharing the wealth -- a tenet she's pushing in her 2020 presidential run. In 2017, she and her husband donated $882,000 to charity, about 9% of her yearly earnings. The Warrens donated $50,000 to charity in 2018.
How Does Elizabeth Warren's Net Worth Compare?
While $12 million is certainly an impressive number, it’s not necessarily a staggering figure when compared to comparable politicians or other public figures. It’s much higher than Bernie Sanders’s estimated $2 million, and even edges out Joe and Jill Biden’s estimated $9 million.
On the other hand, Elizabeth Warren’s net worth pales when compared to former President Obama’s estimated $40 million. Like Warren, while Obama made a healthy salary lecturing, teaching, and holding national office, the bulk of Obama's current worth can be attributed to book sales and wise investments along the way. Lest you worry that only Democrats are managing to tuck a little something away for the future, former President George W. Bush has a very similar current estimated net worth at $39.5 million. While much of the Bush fortune was founded in oil, once again it’s been books and speaking fees since leaving office which have truly swelled the coffers.
Estimates of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s net worth since leaving office have varied widely, although it’s likely the figure is somewhere north of $60 million. Like the Obamas and others, the Clinton’s are quick to give away huge amounts to causes they value, perpetually "paying it forward."
However lucrative a political career might prove in the long run, it simply can’t compare to success in the entertainment industry. No politicians net worth can compete, for example, with Bill Maher – a rather controversial figure who tends to be quite outspoken with his social and political opinions. He’s earned great accolades and weathered intense criticism over the years, but somehow keeps bouncing back to the spotlight where he entertains and provokes – profitably. Through a combination of celebrity-level income and savvy investments, Maher’s net worth is estimated at around $100 million. He’s quick to give to the many causes he supports and shows no signs of backing down in his opinions.
And why should he? It seems to be working for him.
Even Maher can’t compete with someone who’s scored big in both the entertainment industry and the political world. Arnold Schwarzenegger is estimated to be worth something in the neighborhood of $400 million.
What does one even do with that sort of money?
Well, sure, you may be thinking – he was the Terminator! He was Governor of California for eight years! He’s Arnold Freakin’ Schwarzenegger! And certainly those were essential steps towards his current status.
But where Schwarzenegger’s fortune truly began was his bodybuilding years. His repeated successes and gradually swelling success led to increased opportunities, which turned into income, which he then – you guessed it – invested wisely. If there’s a theme to these tales of wealth, it’s that yes – skills matter, and yes – earnings matter, but what you do with those earnings… that’s what separates the comfortable from the elite.
It’s probably too late for Elizabeth Warren to take up acting or bodybuilding. Whatever the results of the 2020 Elections, however, she’ll no doubt emerge with material for another book or two and as many speaking engagements as she chooses to accept. None of this is a reflection on sincerity or motives – it’s simply how things work in modern American politics. People like Elizabeth Warren have ideas they think are important, and people are willing to pay to read and hear about these ideas.
It’s a safe bet that Elizabeth Warren's Net Worth will continue to rise in coming years, but an equally safe bet that she’ll continue to give much of it away to support the causes and institutions she cares about. And that’s OK.
So what can we learn from these success stories? Maybe some of it’s about luck or having the right skills or knowledge at the right time. Most of us probably aren’t going to hit $12 million this year, and that’s OK. But we can find ways to pursue things we care about in ways that allow us to make a living doing something we find meaningful. We can educate ourselves and step out when needed to get involved in our communities, local government, or other causes. We can save when we can and invest when practical.
And who knows? Maybe in a few decades, the next blog piece will be about you.