Not surprisingly, the face of the newly inaugurated United States’ 114th Congress is a face of privilege: male, white, Christian and wealthy. What does this mean for citizens who do not fit these criteria? It means that the rest of us are severely underrepresented in lawmaking in a country that considers itself the ultimate upholder of democratic values. According to The Washington Post, about 80 percent of the members of the 114th Congress are men while only 20 percent are women. Of course, this does not reflect our nation’s reality. Women are not a minority in American society, making up just over half of the population and 64 percent of the electorate. Yet in Congress, the voices of women are far and few between. Drastic underrepresentation aside, this number has increased from nearly zero in the 1960s, but has gone up only slightly in the past 15 years. As for race, House members are 79.8 percent white, and the Senate is 94 percent white. Only 10.1 percent of the House and two percent of the Senate is black, 7.8 percent of the House and 3 percent of the Senate is Hispanic, and 2.3 percent of the House and one percent of the Senate is Asian.
According to Pew Research Center data, people without religious affiliations are also hugely underrepresented in Congress. While 20 percent of Americans do not have religious affiliations, only 0.2 percent of Congress, one Congresswoman, reflects this trend. While 92 percent of Congress is Christian, 73 percent of American adults consider themselves Christians. Half of representatives in Congress are millionaires, while one in sixteen households are worth one million dollars. I should also mention that the 114th Congress is also the most diverse Congress in American history.
Lack of diversity in the legislature is an issue because it means that the interests of these underrepresented groups may not be heard or considered by lawmakers. This is not a liberal or conservative issue; it is a serious flaw in our democracy. In theory, lawmakers should represent voters, but when mainly wealthy white Christian males dominate the political scene, the views of others (minorities, women, non-Christians or the middle class) may be illegitimated.
Whether this illegitimization is intentional or not is not the question. American dissatisfaction with lawmakers is evident, and this may be a result of privileged lawmakers’ disconnection from the American public.