Does it Matter that Congress is a Millionaire’s Club? Does it Have to Be that Way?

Political scientist Nicolas Carnes answers “yes” and “no”. I highly recommend reading both posts, but here’s a taste:

[L]awmakers from different classes bring different perspectives with them: how they think, how they vote, and the kinds of bills they introduce often depend on the classes they came from. The shortage of lawmakers from the working class tilts decisions about the distribution of economic resources, protections, and burdens in favor of the more conservative policies that affluent Americans tend to prefer. Social safety net programs are stingier, business regulations are flimsier, and the tax code is more regressive because working-class Americans are all but absent from our political institutions. . . .

[T]he underrepresentation of the working class isn’t a necessary evil. It isn’t an expression of the popular will. It isn’t an unavoidable result of differences in political qualifications. If people who care about political inequality put their minds to it, they can do something about it. Some have already started. Since it was founded in 1997, the New Jersey Labor Candidate School has helped identify, recruit, and train hundreds of working-class citizens. The program’s graduates have a 75 percent win rate and have won almost 800 elections for offices ranging from school boards to the state legislature. . . .

Programs like these are small compared to the entire landscape of American politics, but they represent a promising start. In 1945, the House and the Senate were each 98 percent men. In the decades that followed, party leaders and interest groups began deliberately recruiting female candidates. Progress has been slow, but today women make up 18 percent of Congress. Once gatekeepers and people with resources got serious about supporting female candidates, it quickly became apparent that Congress didn’t have to be an Old Boys’ Club.

It doesn’t have to be a Millionaires’ Club, either. The obstacles keeping working-class Americans out of office are far from insurmountable. If we want government that’s truly for the people, we’re going to work toward government that’s truly by the people. But that may be as simple as giving working-class candidates a helping hand.

I wonder if a similar logic could/should be applied to the underrepresentation of younger Americans? Why not start a Millennial Candidate School?

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