By tradition, no aide can receive more than a lawmaker, so the highest paid staff make a little less than the member’s $174,000.
But because of the fallout from the Great Recession, and the deep unpopularity of Congress, it’s been politically impossible to increase congressional pay.
That, in turn, has meant that staff pay has also been frozen for the last decade, creating a massive brain drain.
In 2008 the median salary on Capitol Hill was $47,662, according to Legistorm, the nonpartisan for-profit company that researches congressional data.
A decade later the median salary is $50,971.
If this pay had kept up with national inflation rates, the median salary would top $55,000. But that doesn’t even take into account the explosion in the expenses to live in the District.
Consider the demise of the group house.
Twenty years ago the 100 block of C Street SE, half a block from the Cannon House Office Building, had at least four large townhouses filled with congressional staff and one with lawmakers. Rent, divided five or six ways, came in at under $500.
Those homes, now worth more than $1.5 million, no longer rent to 20-somethings.
Instead, today’s younger staffer often crams into large apartment buildings that cost more than $2,500 for a two-bedroom.
Legistorm’s analysis reveals a predictable trend: fewer staff stay longer in those jobs, turning them over to less experienced hands.
In 2001 and 2002, congressional staff in their 30s represented more than 34 percent of all aides on Capitol Hill, while 20-somethings made up 42 percent of staff.
By 2015 and 2016, people in their 30s represented just 27 percent of all congressional staff, while people in their 20s accounted for more than 55 percent of all aides.
The more that salaries stayed flat, the more veteran staff have decided to leave working for Congress to, most likely, head to the private sector as they began to face decisions about marriage, children and home purchases.
The “lifer,” someone serving 20 or 30 years, is a dying breed.
People in their 40s used to represent more than 14 percent of all staff 18 years ago, but have now have shrunk down to a little more than 9 percent.