Long hours, stressful work environments, and low-pay make the turnover rate among Congressional staffers extremely high.
Turnover is so high, in fact, that 46%of staffers would look for a new job within a year due to a “desire to earn more money,” according to a study cited by The Hill. That’s understandable considering that the median pay for staff assistants—the most common position in the House’s workforce—is $30,000 per year, according to The Washington Times.
But new data collected by research engine FindTheBest shows that while many House members often have the budget to raise salaries, they choose not to, likely funneling their personnel allowances into funding for other expenses instead. The personnel allowance is part of the Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA), which the Committee on House Administration appropriates every year. It is exactly the same amount for every member, and was $944,671 in 2013.
Beyond a few restrictions—the maximum number of people any member can employee is 18 full-time and 4-part-time workers—there are few regulations for the way a member may spend his or her funds. So to determine how members spend their personnel allowances, FindTheBest analyzed data on personnel expenditures from the Statement of Disbursements of the House for the four most recent quarters of congressional reporting—April 2013 to March 2014.
What they found is that some members of the House channel the entirety of their personnel allowance into their staff, while others have tens of thousands leftover to spend elsewhere.
First, let’s look at the 10 members of Congress by average salary for their staff members, who commit all or most of their personnel allowance into exactly that, their personnel.
A glance at the numbers above shows that salaries for congressional staffers are not always in the common $30,000 to $50,000 range. The member with the highest average salary for his employees, Rep. Rob Bishop, pays his staff an average of $81,000. And of the ten members above, none pays an average salary of less than $69,000. But not all reps compensate their staff so generously. Of the 30 reps who pay their staff the least, none exceeds an average of $41,000.
It’s important to take the graph above with a grain of salt because it reflects an average of all the salaries for employees of a representative, summed up over the past four quarters. This means that members of the House with a high volume of new staff—new staff who have not received a year of compensation yet—will reflect lower averages.
Additionally, the average salaries for Rep. David Jolly (R-FL), Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), and Rep. Marshall Sanford (R-SC), are artificially low because they recently assumed office in special elections. Like representatives who have many new hires, representatives who are new to the House have a whole fleet of staffers who have been employed for less than a year.
But there are still insights to be gleaned, particularly among members who did not experience high turnover rates. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), for example, pays his employees an average of $41,000, and spent only $783,000 on his staff in the previous four quarters. Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, pays his employees an average of $39,000 and committed only $715,000 of his personnel allowance to staff during the past four quarters.
Assuming that personnel allowance did not change from 2013 to 2014, the two spent about $162,000 and $230,000 less on their staffs in the span of a year respectively, than they had funds for. So before congressional staffers leave their posts, they may want to do some digging. Their boss may not be paying as much as that other Representative down the hall of the Capitol.