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Speaker Pelosi promises to increase House staff base salaries to $45,000 as the fight for a living wage reaches the Capitol

May 6, 2022, 3:11 PM UTC

The impact of the Great Resignation has reached the steps of the Capitol. This morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that in order to find and keep the best talent, the House must provide fair pay for entry-level political aides, who are notoriously overworked and underpaid

Base pay for House employees will start at $45,000, beginning Sept. 1, 2022, according to a letter written by Pelosi, and first covered by PunchBowl News. She hopes pay reforms will help to diversify and strengthen the talent pool, as well as retain workers. 

‘With a competitive minimum salary, the House will better be able to retain and recruit excellent, diverse talent. Doing so will open the doors to public service for those who may not have been able to afford to do so in the past,” Pelosi wrote in the letter, “This is also an issue of fairness, as many of the youngest staffers working the longest hours often earn the lowest salaries.”

One in eight congressional employees do not make a living wage, according to a report from Issue One published in 2020. That year, the median salary for staff assistants was $38,730, $43,860 for press assistants, and $44,050 for legal correspondents. About 70% of staff assistants earned less than a living wage, and many staffers had to take on side jobs to cover expenses. 

Whether $45,000 annually is enough to attract the best talent in a city known for a high cost of living remains to be seen. But Pelosi has a big stake in the game, as staff retention reached a decade low in 2021. Salary-weighted data released by LegiStorm found that staff turnover was the highest in at least two decades. And Democrats were hit hardest, as they lost 24% more employees than Republicans.

Entry-level workers aren’t the only ones who will enjoy a raise. Pelosi announced that to match the Senate’s compensation, maximum pay in the House will increase from $199,300 to $203,700. 

Pelosi also addressed the Congressional Workers Union (CWU), which has been working to organize congressional employees since February. In her letter, she announced that the House would hold a vote on whether to legalize unionization. 

Public opinions of labor unions are the highest since 1965, according to Gallup, even though union participation in the private sector has dropped steadily since 1983 (it’s remained fairly steady for workers in the public sector). While the Gallup survey shows that unions are more popular among Democrats (at a 90% approval rate), almost half of Republicans approve of unions (47%). As speaker, Pelosi has recognized this high approval rate and expressed her support for the CWU. 

According to Time, CWU mostly contains Democrat staffers, but the issue of better pay, which union organizers are pushing for, remains a priority among employees on both sides of the aisle.

“It’s a privilege to work here, but it shouldn’t be a privilege to earn a living wage here,” a congressional employee told Time.

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