Washington, DC is one of the most expensive places to live in the country. If you’re raising a family, it’s even harder to try to make ends meet. In addition to the many people struggling to earn a living on the district’s minimum wage, there are also congressional workers—not members of Congress themselves—who are often making far too little to hold things down: CBS News reports that most congressional interns are unpaid, and entry-level staffers, like assistants, make on average around $32,000. (One report found that living “comfortably” in the district—which has some of the highest rents and childcare costs in the country—requires a salary of more than $90,000.)
“This is a disgrace,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Monday afternoon. “Congress of ALL places should raise MRAs so we can pay staff an actual DC living wage.”
MRAs stands for Members’ Representational Allowance, or the budget that members of Congress use to pay their staffers and run their offices and that also, as CBS News points out, does not come out of lawmakers’ annual (and fairly cushy) salaries.
Ocasio-Cortez argued that her future colleagues should either raise MRAs or cut back on the number of staffers they hire and run leaner teams: “It is unjust for Congress to budget a living wage for ourselves,” she wrote in a follow-up tweet, “yet rely on unpaid interns & underpaid overworked staff just bc Republicans want to make a statement about ‘fiscal responsibility.’”
For a two-parent household living in DC with one child and one working parent, a living wage looks like $28 an hour, or an annual salary of roughly $58,000 before taxes, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator. For a single person, it’s $17 an hour, or an annual salary of about $35,000. In other words, entry-level staffers may be able to skirt by on congressional staff salaries if they are young and not married—but it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for anyone supporting a spouse or child to do so. And it should be said that a living wage is calculated as the basic minimum you need to cover typical expenses: overhead, groceries, and other necessities. A just wage, a wage that allows for some basic ease and comfort for workers, would be higher. All workers deserve that.
Paying workers a fair wage: just another way that Congress is out-of-touch with working-class people, and, it appears, also out-of-touch with Ocasio-Cortez.