A new report from a prominent think tank has exposed a huge racial pay gap for Congressional staffers in both the House and Senate.
In an analysis of how much staffers were paid in both the House and Senate, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies — a leading African American think tank in Washington, DC — found that the pay disparity between white staffers and black staffers in the House was $3,500, according to data acquired from the Legistorm Congressional database. White staff made an average of $2,000 more than their Latinx counterparts, and $900 more than Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) staff.
The Joint Center also found a similar pay gap for staff members in the U.S. Senate, with white staff making, on average, $7,000 more than black staff. White senate staffers were paid roughly $4,800 more than AAPI senate staff, and roughly $1,800 more than Latinx staff.
Racial pay gaps remained significant even for senior staffers, with white chiefs of staff making an average of $7,580 more per year in the House and $2,330 more in the Senate. Nonwhite legislative directors were also paid $1,630 less than their white counterparts in the House and $5,690 less than white legislative directors in the Senate. White communications staff were paid an average of $6,350 more in the House than nonwhites, and $4,420 more in the Senate.
“Congress faces critical challenges when it comes to creating a diverse and inclusive environment that will attract staffers of color,” said Joint Center interim president and CEO Spencer Overton in a public statement.
Pay levels for staffers are set by individual members of Congress, rather than Congressional leadership. In the House, the Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA) is exactly the same for each member of Congress. In 2016, the MRA for each member was $944,671. Senate staff salaries are funded by the Senators’ Official Personnel and Office Expense Account (SOPOEA) which ranges between $3 million to $4.8 million, depending on the population of the state a senator represents along with the distance between the senator’s state and Washington, DC. The average SOPOEA appropriation is $3.3 million, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Essentially, this means individual members of Congress and Senators are perpetuating a racial pay gap that is all too prevalent in society today (as well as the gender wage gap).
Even when accounting for education, college-educated white men still out-earn college-educated men and women of all races and genders, with the exception of Asian men. A Pew Research study from 2016 found that African American and Hispanic men with Bachelor’s degrees still earn, on average, 80 percent less than white men with Bachelor’s degrees.
While some wage gaps can be chalked up to labor force experience, occupation, and industry, the fact still remains that people of color are paid significantly less than whites, both for men and for women. This has remained true despite ever-increasing percentages of the U.S. population attaining college degrees. Pew found that the racial pay gap between white men, black men, and Hispanic men has persisted over the 35-year period between 1980 and 2015:
Black and Hispanic men, for their part, have made no progress in narrowing the wage gap with white men since 1980, in part because there have been no improvements in the hourly earnings of white, black or Hispanic men over this 35-year period. As a result, black men earned the same 73% share of white men’s hourly earnings in 1980 as they did in 2015, and Hispanic men earned 69% of white men’s earnings in 2015 compared with 71% in 1980.
If members of Congress really want to be seen as leaders, they can start by leading the charge on making sure all Congressional employees at all levels are given comparable salaries regardless of race.
Scott Alden is a freelance contributor covering national politics, education, and environmental issues. He is a proud Toledo University graduate, and lives in the suburbs of Detroit.