Where Will Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Get the Funds to Pay Her Staff a $52K Living Wage?

See who's getting a pay cut to fund lower-level staffers.
  • Most staffers for other members of Congress earn under $35,000 per year.
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., will pay at least $52,000 per year.
  • Upper level positions will be paid less than other offices’ rates.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., recently announced that she will pay her staff a minimum of $52,000 per year, citing her conviction that staffers should be paid a living wage. She has called on other lawmakers to do the same.

The median salary for a staff assistant is around $35,440, according to LegiStorm. Many representatives pay median salaries — for all positions — of less than $40,000 per year. Most congressional staffers who are just starting out earn between $30,000 to $35,000.

Compare: How Much the Highest-Paid Members of Congress Actually Make

Starting Congressional Salary Is 23% Below the Amount Needed to Live in the Capital

Due to the high cost of living in Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area, many staffers who are just starting out have to work a second job to make ends meet. The average rent for an apartment in the nation’s capital is over $2,000 per month. Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator estimates the living wage for a single adult in Washington is $17.76 per hour, or $36,940.80 per year. MIT also notes that at least $39,000 is needed to cover all expenses for the year.

Traditionally Unpaid Interns to Earn $15 an Hour

Ocasio-Cortez also announced that her interns will earn $15 an hour. Congress passed a bill in 2018 that included funding to pay interns, a position that’s usually unpaid. Unpaid internships are largely limited to students who had the resources to support themselves while working for no pay. The bill provided $14 million for paid internships in the House and Senate.

See: The 5 Richest Members of Congress Are Worth a Whopping $773M

Where AOC Will Get the Funds to Increase Salaries

Each member of Congress has a budget of approximately $1 million for staff, known as the Members’ Representational Allowance. This budget can be allocated any way the congressperson sees fit. Ocasio-Cortez has said she will cap her staff’s salaries at $80,000 per year, meaning that some of her higher-level employees will earn less than their peers in other offices. Ocasio-Cortez, as a member of Congress, earns $174,000 a year.

Find out what the five highest- and lowest-paying jobs in government are.

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