Barack Obama made history when he was elected president of the United States in 2008, becoming the first Black person to rise to the highest office in the nation. He ended his tenure as the leader of the free world with an approval rating that certified him as one of the most beloved politicians to hold the position, and since leaving the role, he’s remained incredibly popular.
As a family, the Obamas were well off before they moved into the White House, but it wasn’t until after his eight-year incumbency was over that the 44th president began earning the biggest paydays of his life. Whether it be from writing books, producing documentaries, speaking to large audiences, or even recording a podcast, it seems everything Obama does comes with an enormous paycheck.
Here’s a look at Barack Obama’s net worth and how he earns his millions now that he’s a regular (albeit rich) American citizen once again.
6 Ways Barack Obama Makes His Millions
1. Before Politics
Prior to jumping into the world of politics, Obama was busy using his law degrees to better communities, especially in Illinois. He worked as a community organizer at the Developing Communities Project, which was created “to provide a foundation, through churches, for organizing to address community issues and secure equitable resources.” He was there from 1985 until 1988.
In the summers of 1989 and 1990, Obama worked as a summer associate (as he was still in law school at the time) at the law firms Sidley Austin and then Hopkins & Sutter. The following year, he signed on to spend two years as a visiting law and government fellow at the University of Chicago Law School, during which time he also began working on his first book.
Through much of 1992, Obama directed Illinois’ Project Vote, which has been described as “the most effective minority voter registration drive in memory.” He then began teaching at the University of Chicago Law School in 1992 and continued through 2004.
In addition to teaching, Obama was also a lawyer at Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, where he worked on civil rights cases and neighborhood economic development. He was employed by that firm from 1993 through 2004, when he threw his hat into the political ring.
During the years before he became a politician, Obama also served on a number of boards, including the Woods Fund of Chicago, the Joyce Foundation, and Chicago Annenberg Challenge. What he earned for most of these positions and jobs isn’t exactly clear, but the future president didn’t make more than $30,000 as a professor or later a state representative during these years, while his wife, Michelle, earned much more from her law career. Forbes reports that the Obamas earned $130,000 from corporate boards between 2005 and 2016, though how that’s split between the two, or broken down by position, was not shared.
Obama was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996, and then reelected in 1998 and 2002. In 2000, he lost a race for the 1st Congressional District in Illinois, but then he went on to win a Senate seat in 2004, officially becoming a national politician, as opposed to a local one. When he became a U.S. senator, his salary grew to more than $150,000.
After less than four years as a senator, Obama was elected president of the United States, and once again, his salary climbed significantly. As president, he earned $400,000 per year, and the job came with other financial perks as well. He was given an expense account of $150,000, a travel account that was worth at least $100,000, and an entertainment budget of $20,000, among others. As a former president, Obama is still making money from his time in office, as he collects a pension of around $200,000 per year, though the exact amount can vary.
Before he became a politician, Obama tried his hand at writing, and that would go on to be the career that first earned him tens of millions of dollars. In addition to advances, the former president reportedly earns $1.12 for every paperback book he sells and $3.75 for every hardcover edition.
Obama’s first book, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, was published in 1995. While only modestly successful at first, sales picked up considerably in 2004 after he spoke at the Democratic National Convention. Millions tuned in to hear his speech, and the title was republished, quickly becoming a strong seller. In 2005, the Obamas earned $1.65 million, with most of that coming from book royalties.
In 2006, Obama published his second book, The Audacity of Hope, which was well-received and commercially successful upon its release. The following year, the political family’s income rose to $4.2 million, again thanks largely to book sales.
In 2010, two years into his first term as president of the United States, Obama released a children’s book titled, Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters. He donated the proceeds from sales to “a scholarship fund for the children of fallen and disabled soldiers serving our nation,” according to a statement shared by the publisher.
All told, between 2005 and 2016, Obama may have earned as much as $15.6 million in book advances and royalties connected to the three titles released by that point.
In 2017, a bidding war began among publishers to secure the rights to Obama’s first book to be published following his time in office. Some at the time predicted that he’d earn as much as $20 million for the then-unannounced effort. The former president partnered with wife Michelle to sell the publishing rights to their separate works as one, raising the price tag significantly. In the end, Penguin Random House paid a reported $65 million for books from both Obamas.
His fourth book, A Promised Land, sold just under 900,000 copies in the first 24 hours it was available in November 2020, immediately becoming a bestseller. It ended 2020 as the bestselling title of the year, selling 2.6 million copies.
Following his tenure as president of the United States, Obama began working with the Harry Walker agency, which secured him high-paying and high-profile speaking opportunities. Since leaving office, he has spoken to crowds at events powered by companies like Cantor Fitzgerald LP, the Carlyle Group, and the Northern Trust Corp, which reportedly paid him $400,000 each for his time.
Obama also sat down for a 90-minute interview with presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin for a special event commissioned by cable network A&E, which reportedly netted him another $400,000.
5. TV, Film & Podcasts
In 2018, the Obamas created their own production company and named it Higher Ground Productions, and they soon signed a deal with Netflix to produce content including films, TV shows, documentaries, docuseries, and more. Exact financial details regarding the deal, which includes both Barack and Michelle, weren’t shared by the streamer, but sources suggest it may have cost the platform as much as $50 million or more.
Since being formed in 2018, Higher Ground Productions has backed films like Kevin Hart’s Fatherhood as well as Worth, which starred Michael Keaton and Stanley Tucci, and TV shows such as Ada Twist, Scientist, Waffles + Mochi, and We the People. The company is also behind the Oscar-winning documentary American Factory, the Oscar-nominated doc Crip Camp, and the Emmy-nominated Becoming, based on Michelle’s book of the same name. Some of these titles include the Obamas, but not all. One that does is Netflix’s 2022 nature-focused docuseries Our Great National Parks, which the former president narrates and appears in.
In 2019, the Obamas (through Higher Ground Productions) signed a deal with Spotify to produce original podcasts. The streaming giant reportedly paid $25 million, and each Michelle and Barack launched one series. The former politician’s offering was titled Renegades: Born in the USA, and it featured him in conversation with rocker Bruce Springsteen across eight episodes. In 2022, Spotify opted not to renew its contract with the former first family, and the Obamas are reportedly now looking at offers from other companies, ones which may be worth $10 million or more.
When Obama was named the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, he was given the prestigious title as well as a cash prize of about $1.4 million. He chose to donate it to various charities, giving hundreds of thousands to nonprofits like the Fisher House, the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, and the United Negro College Fund.
What Is Barack Obama’s Net Worth?
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Obama is worth $70 million. Looking forward, he and his family members will likely continue to have extremely lucrative opportunities in writing, producing, and speaking. One prediction suggests that the Obamas could go on to earn close to a quarter of a billion dollars throughout their lifetimes.