We Pay the President $400K a Year. Should We Pay the First Lady, Too?

The president’s annual salary is $400,000, as reported by Business Insider.

It’s almost a joke compared with the existing incomes and net worth of the people who hold or wish to hold the office.

Donald Trump, probably the most extreme example, reports earning somewhere in the ballpark of $300 million a year.

While he’s been president, Barack Obama’s total annual income actually comes closer to $800,000, which means his passive income from book royalties and investments matches what he makes doing the very active work of being president.

The position of President of the United States has only received five pay raises in its more than 200-year history.

Adjusted for inflation, George Washington actually earned more than Obama. And Bill Clinton. And Ronald Reagan.

But that’s not news. I learned about the president’s salary back in high school, when Congress doubled it in 2001 from $200,000 to $400,000.

What’s more surprising in current news is the bit that Business Insider included, almost as an afterthought, in an article detailing the history of the president’s salary:

And if you were wondering, the first lady doesn’t get paid a dime.

The question of a salary for the first lady of the United States probably doesn’t cross your mind much.

But then you learn definitively that it’s zero… and suddenly you can’t stop wondering about it.

Should the First Lady Receive a Salary?

It’s no big secret to the public that we don’t pay a salary to the first lady.

But the unofficial position does come with a lot of responsibilities and expectations. Michelle Obama, arguably, serves the public as much as any elected official.

For the implicit work duties FLOTUS embraces, many argue the person holding the position should be paid. President Obama himself has invoked this issue several times in conversations about equal pay.

On the other side is the argument that the first lady is compensated quite well in perks for what is not an official job. Laura Bush responded to Obama’s 2012 comments to say no, the first lady shouldn’t receive a salary.

The question, Bush pointed out, is actually whether the president’s wife or husband should be able to have a career “in addition to serving as first lady.”

As it is, a spouse’s existing career is typically set aside during the presidency, which is why The Guardian argues the position is outdated and should be eliminated altogether.

“First lady of the United States” is, in fact, not an official position of the government, but rather a circumstance of marriage.

Because of its murky status, the matter of pay comes with a host of social, legal, logical, cultural and historical implications, so it’s no surprise we haven’t seen it solved yet.

But as our culture grows in such a way that we can no longer simply expect a dutiful stay-at-home-mom to grace the White House alongside whomever we elect to run the country…

It’s probably a matter that should cross our minds more frequently.

Your Turn: What do you think? Should the first lady be paid a government salary?

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post,, Writer’s Digest and more.

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