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Survey: Budget boost raised Hill pay, but disparities remain

Half of respondents more likely to keep working in House, Senate after increases

Seats are reserved for staff at the House Armed Services Committee hearing in this archive photo. A new survey of staffers found disparities in pay raises for women and staffers of color.
Seats are reserved for staff at the House Armed Services Committee hearing in this archive photo. A new survey of staffers found disparities in pay raises for women and staffers of color. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A majority of staff in both the House and Senate got raises after lawmakers boosted office budgets this year, but disparities in pay for people of color and women remain a concern, a new survey found.

“Our survey findings illuminate that while this increase is bringing more money into the salaries of congressional workers, it is being allocated regressively and inequitably,” said Zoe Bluffstone, spokeswoman for the Congressional Progressive Staff Association, which did the survey. 

Eighty-six percent of the 273 people who responded to the early-summer survey reported they received a raise this year. But many of the 105 staffers who self-identified as nonwhite reported lower boosts in pay compared to their white counterparts. 

Latino workers saw average raises that were 14 percent higher than those for the average white worker. But compared to white staffers, raises were 40 percent lower for staffers of Middle Eastern and North African descent, 20 percent lower for Asian American and Pacific Islander staffers and 12 percent lower for Black staffers.

More women reported getting raises than men, but women still make about 7 percent less than men, and men on average received raises that were 9 percent bigger, the association said.

Though lower-level staff reported lower pay bumps than senior staff, the average annual salaries jumped roughly $10,000, to about $67,000. Still, almost one-third of respondents said managers “engaged in tactics to discourage workers from asking for a raise.” 

About half of those surveyed said they were satisfied with their new pay and that they were somewhat or much more likely to continue working on the Hill after getting the raise. Thirty-seven percent said they were satisfied with the transparency of how the raises were distributed. 

The survey overwhelmingly covered Democratic offices, with fewer than five respondents working in GOP offices. Still, it provides an early, anecdotal glimpse into how lawmakers are beginning to spend new funds provided in the fiscal 2022 omnibus spending bill aimed at boosting recruitment and retention. 

The raises were good news, but the persistent pay disparities are concerning, said Taylor J. Swift, senior policy adviser with the progressive organization Demand Progress.

“Congress can and must create a more transparent and inclusive process for distributing taxpayer dollars to pay staffers’ salaries,” he said. “We commend the CPSA and other staffers who continue to push for fair pay and a more equitable and empowered congressional workforce.” 

Bigger bump in House

House lawmakers increased office budgets by 21 percent, and senators’ grew by about 5 percent over the previous year. The survey found that fewer Senate staffers reported getting raises than House staffers. The two chambers make separate decisions about spending, and members are largely in charge of deciding how their staffers are paid.

The House set a new pay floor of $45,000 for permanent employees, which goes into effect starting Thursday. It also raised the pay ceiling to $203,700, meaning staffers can now earn more than their bosses, since elected officials have kept their pay frozen at $174,000. Members of leadership, such as the speaker of the House, earn $223,500. 

The House also approved a resolution in May allowing staff to unionize, and the survey found that nearly all employees in offices that collectively bargained with management got raises, which averaged over $12,400. 

On a Wednesday call unveiling the results, organizers said they wanted to know which staff had received raises shortly after the omnibus was signed in March. The survey, conducted through Google and publicized through newsletters, social media and word of mouth, was open for responses from June 22 to July 1. Jacob Wilson, co-founder of the association, said he was optimistic that more workers would have reported raises as the summer wore on. 

But the goal was to get information out quickly so staffers would have more information when negotiating their salaries this fall.

“What we wanted to do was get out in front of the raise cycle,” Wilson said. “So when junior staff are going to ask for a raise, they know the best way to do it. And so the senior staff can have this stuff in their mind and be a little more conscious of decisions they’re making.”

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