The Hill Life: Young, Underpaid and Powerful
Jun 13, 2012
“The most powerful nation on Earth is run largely by 24-year-olds.”
Recently, The Washington Times published an article about the youth, salary and experience of Capitol Hill staffers. For those of us who work on the Hill, the news wasn’t exactly Earth shattering. Staffers are usually young, stay on the Hill only a few years, leaving the body with a possibly detrimental lack of expertise and institutional knowledge.
Consider the class of 2005. Of 186 Senate staff assistants who started that year, 82 percent had left by last year, 13 percent were still in the same position and the remaining 5 percent have moved up a notch. Of Senate legislative correspondents starting the same year, 83 percent have departed and the rest moved up.
In the House, of 105 people who started as legislative assistants, four made chief of staff in six years. Seven out of 10 left, and almost all the rest got other promotions.
The article blames the notoriously low salaries on the Hill as the primary culprit for this exodus. A chart illustrates staffer pay as running from $30,000 for a Staff Assistant to just over $76,000 for a legislative director with seven years experience. The article then compares that to the rest of the Metro area.
Most college-educated workers in the D.C. area earn $81,000 or more, with an average salary of $93,850, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For college grads under 30, the median salary is $42,000.
While all of us would agree that comparatively low salaries do lead many staffers to leave the Hill, I think there are two issues that are equally impactful, 1) the pyramid nature of the Hill and 2) the hectic pace.
There are so few positions at the top of the ladder (COS, LD) and so many at the bottom (LC, Staff Asst.), how can we expect people to stay without any upward mobility? How long is one expected to remain an LA if their odds of moving up the chain are slim? Especially when they can double their salary in the private sector.
Also, I think equally important is how the hectic pace of the Hill effects staffers’ personal lives. Of course, one can get married and have a family and work on the Hill, but it’s a rough environment for families. Vacations are few, hours are long and variable, and there is always an email to respond to or a fire to put out.
Bottom line, I don’t think the Hill will ever be the kind of place where people come and work forever. The structure simply isn’t set up for it, and asking the taxpayers for more money to pay Hill salaries is simply not going to happen.
So what do you think about the article?