In this first full week of the new year, many of our national leaders are also getting to work in the halls of Congress. Among them will be a bunch of new Freshmen members coming to Capitol Hill on the heels of winning their first election last November. This is no surprise, and happens with every new session of Congress.
But what might be a surprise to the American people? Just how lacking in diversity the 114th Congress is. As Phillip Bump of the Washington Post reports, those 535 people we are sending to represent us don’t share much in common with everyone…
The 114th Congress, which gets to “work” on Tuesday, is one of the most diverse in American history, comprised of nearly 20 percent women and just over 17 percent of which is non-white. Which means, of course, that four out of five members of Congress are white and four out of five are men. Ergo, given the name of a member of Congress (at random: Oregon GOP Rep. Greg Walden), you can probably guess his or her gender and race. (In case you want to see if you were right about Walden: here.)
The House of Representatives is composed of 76 percent men and 24 percent women, while the actual composition of the country is 49 percent men to 51 percent women.
Similar disparities exist for race.
The House of Representatives is 80 percent White, 10 percent African-American, 8 percent Hispanic* and 2 percent Asian, while the whole of the United States is 62.6 percent White, 17.1 percent Hispanic*, 13.2 percent African-American and 4.5 percent Asian.
There are of course some other factors at play here. For one, very few minorities are actually out there running for office. The vast majority of people most interested in politics, and most likely to mount successful political campaigns are white men. You can’t change the composition of Congress without more people actually working to change it. Also, it would be wrong to suggest that one’s race or gender are the determining factors indicators for how they can best represent their constituents. There are certainly many great lawmakers out there that may not have the same superficial characteristics as the citizens of their district, but they still do a great job representing their interests.
But the information in itself should be enough to give some communities pause. With little getting done in Washington of a substantive nature, and near record dissatisfaction from the American people, perhaps it is time for more of us work towards a Congress that better reflects the truth of the nation, instead of the interests of one powerful and vocal group within it.
*Hispanic is not yet an official racial designation in American demographic measurements.