House Workers Catching Up in Pay

Hill-based Staffers Closing Gap With Other D.C. Federal Workers

Posted January 24, 2003 at 5:39pm

SWM, 35, well-educated, no kids, underpaid.

What sounds like a personal ad is actually the profile of the typical House staffer, according to the most recent House Staff Employment Study by the Congressional Management Foundation.

“The average age is 35, 85 percent hold at least a bachelor’s degree, 18 percent hold advanced degrees, 61 percent are unmarried, and 77 percent have no dependent children,” the study noted.

The average salary for D.C.-based House staffers, the CMF reported, was $51,068 in 2002 — 34 percent less than the average salary of their Washington counterparts in the federal government.

But the study also suggests that things are looking up for this underpaid breed of worker. House staffers are earning more these days, and the pay gap with other federal workers is narrowing, according to the study.

The report also showed a marked decrease in staff turnover, a problem that has plagued the Hill for years. The CMF suggested the decrease “may be related to the increases in staff pay” over the past couple of years.

The study showed that the average House salary for D.C. workers represents a 9.6 percent increase over 2000. Other federal workers in Washington earned an average of $68,239.

The 34 percent gap is a modest but notable improvement over the 39 percent disparity that existed three years ago. In 2000, D.C.-based staffers earned $46,598 and federal workers pulled in about $64,615.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the increase is not enough of an improvement.

“The gap between House employee pay and pay for other Washington, D.C.-based federal employees is a serious problem,” Hoyer said. “The 5 percent reduction in the gap is a positive sign, but that does not make a 34 percent difference acceptable. In fact, it is completely unacceptable and not the way to run an effective government.”

Hoyer pledged to “continue to work to address this important issue and provide fair pay for all hardworking federal employees.”

When staffers working in lawmakers’ district offices are included, the pay gap decreases. The average salary for all House staffers serving on personal staffs was $46,913, while their federal counterparts across the nation earned $53,959, resulting in a 15 percent pay gap. In 2000, that pay gap was 20 percent.

As for the turnover, staff tenure by position increased 10 percent in 2002 to an average of 3.3 years, according to the study. The average number of years staffers spend working in the same office, meanwhile, rose by 8 percent to an average of four years.

But the CMF study still noted that staff tenure is “very low.”

More than 60 percent of the House staffers have less than two years of experience in their current positions.

And while high turnover is greater for entry-level positions, it still afflicts senior-level jobs. Forty percent of all chiefs of staff, 58 percent of legislative directors and 72 percent of press secretaries have been in their respective positions less than two years.

Nonetheless, job shuffling on the Hill keeps experienced employees on board with the institution.

CMF noted that “most staff have a good deal of Congressional experience.” In 10 of 16 positions, more than 50 percent of staff has worked on the Hill for more than two years, the study said.

The increases in pay and tenure come as welcome news to those who have been studying the problems and challenges facing the federal work force.

A report released last month by the National Commission on The Public Service suggested that the government’s ability to compete with the private sector for talent is severely hampered by the limited financial resources available. The commission included the legislative branch in its study.

“Far too many talented public servants are abandoning the middle levels of government, and too many of the best recruits are rethinking their commitment,” the report stated, noting that many potential employees are “simply lured away by the substantial difference between public- and private-sector salaries in many areas.”

Among the report’s recommendations: Congress should grant “an immediate and significant increase in the judicial, executive, and legislative salaries to ensure a reasonable relationship to other professional opportunities.”

It appears that some lawmakers have already been doing what they can to improve the lots of their staffers.

CMF said most House Members dedicated more than 75 percent of the increase in their 2002 office allowances to boost staff salaries and hand out bonuses.

More than half of all House offices gave across-the-board cost-of-living increases in 2002, with about 81 percent of all staffers receiving raises in 2002 and 89 percent receiving bonuses.

Beyond simply paying higher salaries, CMF’s research showed that House Members have been making their offices more attractive places of employment in other ways as well.

More than 40 percent, for instance, offer flexible work arrangements — such as flex time and compressed work weeks — and an average of 2.7 staffers in those offices take advantage of those arrangements.

Thanks to technology, some 33 percent of Members’ offices give their staffs the option of telecommuting.

Women and minorities working in the House still trail their white, male counterparts, but those disparities are less marked than the differences nationwide.

While more women work for House Members — 55.6 percent of all employees are female, 44.4 percent male — female staffers earn on average 84 percent of the pay of male staffers. CMF attributes that pay gap largely to the fact that women are under-represented in higher-paying positions and over-represented in lower-paying positions.

Black staffers, meanwhile, earned about 88 percent of white House employees’ salaries in 2002; Hispanics earned 83 percent. Again, this disparity is because minority staffers are underrepresented in higher-paying positions.

Nationally, black employees earn 72 percent and Hispanics earn 64 percent of the pay of white employees, the study noted.

The study was produced for the Chief Administrative Officer of the House to help offices and staff better understand the needs of the House labor market and the pay and workplace practices available to them.