Making a better future for the next generation in North Carolina.

North Carolina’s Legislators Need a Raise

Mar 11, 2024 | Elections, Future, Government, North Carolina | 0 comments

An article in the Carolina Journal — “Study: Only 2% of state lawmakers come from working class” — by Brianna Kraemer caught my eye this week. This was the conclusion in a study by Nicholas Carnes and Eric Hansen — researchers from Duke and Loyola Universities. They classified 7,386 legislators from all 50 states. Since 50% of the labor force is working class by their definition, there is a major difference between the background of legislators and their constituents.

The Carolina Journal article added that North Carolina has zero legislators from the working class in its General Assembly. It quotes a couple of sources who believe the reason is that NC only pays its legislators $14,000 per year — who can afford to work for that? The legislature supplements that with $104 for every day the General Assembly is in session — even McDonald’s pays more for eight hours of work.

Carnes & Hansen were kind enough to provide their data available in spreadsheets, so I dug a little deeper….

A few observations about the North Carolina General Assembly

  • Owners and managers of businesses and farms make up the largest professional background of legislators at 54%. This is skewed by party. 66% of Republican lawmakers are from these backgrounds compared to 32% of Democrats.
  • 21% of legislators work in the legal profession, which makes sense, I suppose, if you are making laws.
  • 29% are women. That is also skewed by party. 54% of the Democrats are women compared to 13% of Republicans.
  • The ethnic split of NC legislators is 76% White, 19% Black, 2% Hispanic, 2% Asian-American, 1% Native American. These numbers are pretty close to today’s ethnic breakdown of the state with Whites making up 70% of the population. Again, that is skewed by party — 57% of Democratic representatives are from ethnic minorities, but only 3% of Republicans.
  • 30% of those who list their age are 65 or older. Sounds like being a legislator in North Carolina can be a post-retirement hobby. The typical Republican lawmaker is six years older than the typical Democrat.

Let’s pay our legislators a full time salary salary

I’m not surprised by the demographics of our legislators but it’s nice to put some actual numbers on these characteristics. What a contrast with the the rest of us!

  • 42% of today’s children in North Carolina — the adults of 2040 — identify with ethnic minority groups compared to 24% of today’s legislators.
  • 51% of NC’s population are women compared to 29% of legislators.
  • If current trends continue, about half our kids will be working for wages — not as owners, managers, or professionals. Today, our General Assembly has 0% of people who work for wages. How could wage-earners possibly serve on a legislator’s pay of $14,000 per year?

Unless there is a shift in the type of people we elect, it will be difficult for legislators to understand our kids’ lives, their issues and goals when they become adults. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) classifies NC’s General Assembly as a Gray Legislature — that is one in which lawmakers have to work at least two thirds as much as they would on a full time job, but do not earn enough to live on.

If we want legislators who live like we do and understand our issues, we need to treat their work as a real job and pay them accordingly. A legislator should be able to support a middle class lifestyle for their family without relying on outside income. The NCSL describes a number of states that have done that.

North Carolina has made it into the top-10 tier of states by population, but still treats making laws as something well-to-do people can handle as a hobby. It’s time we changed that.

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