The United States Congress. A diverse body of people from every state in the nation who take an oath to uphold the Constitution, to represent the people in their state/district, right? Maybe on paper, but the reality is that these days I think most of us have the feeling that we are misunderstood and misrepresented not only in the executive, but also the legislative branches of our government. I speak from my own experience with the ‘representative’ for my district, Warren Davidson. His values and priorities are so far away from my own that I wonder how he ever got elected. He annoys me on a daily basis, and I let him have it back, tit-for-tat … not that he likely ever reads my tweets or emails, but I try. Now, I do realize that within any district, not everyone will have the same views, however an elected official is supposed to represent ALL the people, and in truth, far too many represent only the people who have a lot more money in the bank than anybody reading this blog.
Our friend Scottie posted something interesting yesterday and threw out a bit of a challenge for me to follow up on it, take it a step further. Never one to turn down a challenge, I took the bait. The question: How demographically representative is Congress of the nation as a whole? Turns out, not very. This is the chart Scottie posted that piqued my interest:
The 116th U.S. Congress took office in January, with Democrats taking control of the House while Republicans maintain an edge in the Senate. The current Congress is the most racially and ethnically diverse ever. The number of women in Congress is at an all-time high. The share of immigrants in Congress has ticked up but remains well below historical highs. Seems a step in the right direction, but …
Before I get into the demographics comparison, I found this cool interactive that will take you only about 20 seconds to see how well, based on five simple criteria, you are represented in Congress today. Check it out and see where you stand. My own result was that there are 0 people in Congress like me. Hey, I’m unique!!! I’m also unrepresented in Congress. So, how did you fare?
Let’s start with women. There are currently 131 women in Congress, an all-time high. 131 out of a total of 535 is 24.5%. So, 24.5% of Congress are women, but 50.8% of the population are women. See the problem here? Granted, one does not have to be a woman to understand women’s issues, but it helps, especially today when more and more male-dominated state legislatures are passing laws stripping women of the right to make their own reproductive health decisions. Interestingly, among democrats in Congress, there is a significantly higher number of women, but among republicans, only 10% are women. Think about that one.
Next let’s look at African-Americans. There are 58 African-Americans in Congress, comprising 10.8% of the total. Comparatively, African-Americans make up 13.4% of the population. The disparity here is, perhaps, not as wide as the gender gap, and is much less than it once was, but is still there. Again, note the difference between democrat and republican.
What about age? The average age at the beginning of the 116th Congress was 57.6 years for Representatives and 62.9 years for Senators. How does that compare to the population as a whole? 13% of the population are between 55-64, and 16% are over 65. Seems rather like younger people are under-represented, wouldn’t you say? On the upside, however, the average age of incoming members of Congress this year was 47, so we are seeing some younger blood … perhaps it’s time for some of those crotchety old men (Mitchell McConnell) to retire?
One of the big dividers is religion. While there is a disparately higher number of most every religious group, it is interesting to note that not one single member of Congress is ‘unaffiliated’, while nearly a quarter of the nation’s population are unaffiliated with any organized religion. I fall into that category, as do many readers of this blog … we are not even a blip on the radar of Congress. To me, this is a problem, for in the past two years, many of the barriers between church and state have been breached and we seem to be on our way toward a theocracy of sorts, which would leave nearly a fourth of the population out in the cold. More than 99% of republicans identify as Christian, compared to 78% of democrats.
While there are many more categories we could look at, I will wrap it up with one very important one, a group of people who are frequently misunderstood and subjected to discrimination, even state-sanctioned discrimination, the LGBTQ community. This category is the most misunderstood of any, and they are the most likely to face discrimination. Of late, even our own government, thanks to Mike Pence and the evangelicals who have a hold over Don Trump, are passing laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people. There are a total of 10 LGBTQ people in Congress today, as compared to an estimated 4.5% of the total population. A disclaimer is in order, however, for the number of LGBTQ people is likely underestimated, since many choose not to make public their gender orientation. The fact that there are more men than women in Congress is disturbing, as is the fact that minorities are under-represented. But LGBTQ is one group whose problems and issues are unique, and frankly if you aren’t a member of that group, you don’t understand. Period. You may empathize, but you cannot possibly understand. And if you and I cannot understand, what makes anybody think our illustrious members of Congress understand? They don’t.
One other area in which Congress has little, if any, connection to the real world of the U.S. is wealth, as you saw in Scottie’s chart. It is a pertinent topic, but one that I must save for another day, as I have already spent some six hours doing research, double-checking facts, creating charts, and writing this post. Suffice it to say that the members of Congress are far ‘above the madding crowd’ when it comes to wealth, and I think this may be one of the most relevant reasons that they cannot possibly relate to “We the People” in any meaningful way. I hope to do a separate post within the next week assessing the wealth of various members of Congress, how they came to be millionaires, and how that may be influencing their decisions.
I note, overall, a disturbing trend regarding democrat vs republican. Democrats have nearly 5 times as many women in Congress as republicans. Republicans have a measly 2 … count ’em … two African-Americans, compared to more than 50 of the Democratic Party. Republicans have zero diversity in religion, and there is not a single LGBTQ republican in Congress. People tell me that I shouldn’t judge all republicans on the basis of what some do, but … as far as Congress goes, they seem to be a fairly narrow-minded group of old, white, Christian, straight males. Think about it.
I end where I started … thank you, Scottie, for throwing me this challenge. I think it is a worthwhile topic, and I learned quite a bit tonight, including why I sometimes feel that I am left behind by those men & women we think are looking out for our best interests.