She has has set a living wage minimum of $52,000 per year for her staff and a $15 per hour minimum for her interns.
Claudia Pagon Marchena, like so many Hill staffers, moonlighted at a Washington, D.C., eatery to pay her rent until she took a job with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She celebrated her last day at her coffee shop job that same week.
That’s because Ocasio-Cortez, who has called on fellow lawmakers to pay their staffs a “living wage,” is making an example out of her own office. The New York Democrat has introduced an unusual policy that no one on her staff will make less than $52,000 a year — an almost unheard of amount for many of the 20-somethings whose long hours make House and Senate offices run.
Ocasio-Cortez is trying to force the conversation. She made national headlines in December by announcing that all interns in her office would make $15 an hour plus benefits — a rarity for Capitol Hill offices in which interns are often unpaid. She has also highlighted the high number of Hill staff members who work side jobs to make up for median salaries as low as $35,000 for staff assistants, the lowest paid positions in congressional offices, according to a Legistorm analysis last year.
“We think that if a person is working, they should make enough to live,” said Corbin Trent, Ocasio-Cortez’s communications director.
A position as a congressional staffer is highly coveted because you can make a lot of important contacts. It is often the first step in a political career. When congressional salaries for staff and interns are low, this prevents young people who do not have parents who can afford to supplement their incomes from getting these jobs because the cost of living in Washington is very high. It is the same kind of subtle inequality that allows the children of wealthy people to accept offers of unpaid internships at major companies and thus get their foot inside the door before others who may be more deserving. The drive to end unpaid or low-paid internships and pay a living wage is an important step.
Since all congresspeople get a fixed staff salary budget, this decision by Ocasio-Cortez means that her top staffers will get less to allow for the lower paid people to get more. Of course, this caused Fox News people to freak out that this was the end of the world as we know it, since the very idea of reducing income disparities is anathema to them. Listen to Pete Hegseth.
In which Fox attacks @AOC paying her staffers a living wage as "communism" and botches basic math by deciding that paying interns $15 an hour means an "entry level intern will be making 52 grand" pic.twitter.com/73AaIUZ0eE
— Steve Morris (@stevemorris__) February 24, 2019
Anyone who lives in the world of ordinary incomes knows at once without any calculation that $15 minimum hourly wage does not translate to $52,000 per year. It is $31,200, so this shows how innumerate and oblivious Hegseth is. But he is the guy who boasts that germs don’t exist because he can’t see them and thus has not washed his hands for the last ten years. Pro tip: Do not shake hands with him or accept any invitation to eat in his home.