Whether you agree with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (AOC) politics or not, you can’t fault her for refusing to put her money where her mouth is. AOC has pledged that her staffers will be paid at least $52,000 per year. In order to pay her lower-ranking staffers such a high wage, higher-ranking staffers are going to have to work for less.
Median salaries for Congressional staffers weigh in at $154,634 per year. The highest paid person on AOC’s staff will top out at about $80,000. AOC has been pushing for members of Congress to pay staff and interns a living wage. It’s easy to talk about living wages, but in practice, making the budget work is more difficult.
To run their office, members of Congress are provided with a Members’ Representational Allowance, which totaled $1,368,520 in 2018. Some members of Congress have used the funds to buy expensive furniture and others pay their top staffers six-figure salaries. All the while, interns are expected to work for free and junior staff members are expected to scrape by on low salaries.
In practice, this often means that young people from rich families make up the junior staff and interns. Someone from a middle or working class family will struggle to afford DC’s sky-high living costs while not even earning a salary. Staffers in AOC’s office won’t be living the high life, but at least they’ll be able to get by. As for interns, they’ll be making at least $15 per hour. AOC has called for a nation-wide $15 minimum wage.
And while some critics have tried to claim AOC is wasting taxpayer money, she isn’t spending more than other members of Congress. She’s simply setting different priorities. Her budget will be the same as everyone else’s, she’s just spreading it around differently.