Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) is calling for higher salaries for congressional staff members, in an effort to increase diversity on Capitol Hill.
On Monday, Ocasio-Cortez led 110 of his colleagues in Congress, including Reps Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) And Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), In written to the House Committee on Appropriations and demand that more funds be allocated in the budgets of the legislative branch to be able to increase staff salaries by about 21%.
Lawmakers have written that paying low wages to entry-level staff “will continue to raise barriers to entry and benefit those who are already rich and connected”, making it all the more difficult “to recruit and retaining the talented and diverse workforce we need to serve the diversity and needs of the American people.
“It is unfair that Congress is budgeting a living wage for ourselves, while relying on unpaid interns and underpaid and overworked staff just because some Conservatives want to make a statement on ‘fiscal responsibility’.” Ocasio-Cortez said in a press release. “The lack of diversity on the Hill can be attributed directly to our inability to pay staff a living wage. “
Reports from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that while people of color make up about 40 percent of the U.S. population, they make up only 11% of senior staff in Senate offices in 2020 and only 13.7% of the best employees of the House in 2018.
To ensure that “Congress reflects the American people we serve,” lawmakers wrote in Monday’s letter, “we must be able to recruit and retain a diverse and talented workforce.”
Compensation for staff in legislators’ offices and committees has “increasingly fallen” behind private sector salaries, the letter from lawmakers says, while the cost of living in Washington, DC has increased over the years. years, “creating opportunities such as home ownership, rental housing and child care out of reach for many.”
Ocasio-Cortez was advocate for higher wages to staff and interns on the Hill for years.
In 2018, Congress approved a spending bill setting aside funds for legislators to pay their interns – although a recent report found that more needs to be done to increase diversity among people who have benefited from these prestigious internships, who are still mostly young and white.
Dan Riffle, a former senior executive at Ocasio-Cortez, wrote on Twitter that he left his post earlier this year because he “couldn’t afford it”.
Noting that positions on the Hill pay less than private sector work, as well as many nonprofit and local government jobs, Riffle said Ocasio-Cortez was “a great boss and I loved my jobs. colleagues, but with two kids in daycare, I just couldn’t afford the job.
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