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Unloved and Underpaid in a Home-State Office

Thinking of leaving D.C. for your home state? Hill Navigator discusses. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It’s no secret Capitol Hill staffers are underpaid compared to their private-sector counterparts. But what if you’re underpaid compared to the rest of Capitol Hill? When is it time to find work in another office? Hill Navigator discusses.

Q. I love working for a member from my home state, but I'm severely underpaid, even by Hill standards. I have a job that is more highly valued in other offices, but I'm reluctant to work for an out-of-state member or committee because I want to move back home some day. With no substantial raise on the horizon, is it worth sticking it out to keep my state ties strong?
A. Underpaid even by Hill standards? And what does your office say about that?  

You have a job that you love, with your home-state member, ostensibly a job that you are good at doing. So why is your office underpaying you?  

Because it can.  

Sad, but true. The Capitol Hill economic model means that as long as more people are eager and willing to do your job (some for free ), your office can remain blasé on salary negotiations because it has (correctly) assumed you will continue working at the price it's paying.  

It's unfair, you think, these cruel, stingy offices would rather buy copy machines than pay good money for hard working staff. Perhaps, but if you’ve asked for a competitive salary and been turned down, the best way to rectify the situation is to go to another office that will pay you better. From your comments, it sounds like such opportunities exist.  

But how does that fare for your plan to move home? It depends on your timeline. A 1- to 2-year position in another office can broaden your skill set and build connections, particularly if it is with a neighboring delegation or a committee that focuses on issues that matter a great deal to your home. You can also investigate making a move within your delegation.  

Even if you’re reluctant to move offices right away, take the time to interview and inquire about other possibilities. You might find out there is an excellent, generously compensated opportunity well-suited to you. And some offices have ways of “discovering” extra money to keep staffers on board if they have a competing offer in hand. Unfortunately, you might also learn that low compensation is not as unusual on Capitol Hill  as you had thought, but I hope for your sake a raise is on the horizon. Good luck.  

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