On any given day, about 24,000 people get up in the morning to go to work on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
In many ways, this work force resembles others in industry. They mop floors, cook food, provide protection, repair broken parts and paint the buildings. Like their counterparts at countless organizations around the world, they keep the place running. Their employer – the federal government – wouldn’t last very long without them.
But about 15,000 of these people make our government possible. They have some of the most unique jobs in the world. Hired by Senators and Representatives, congressional staffers write the laws that govern our country, compose speeches for national audiences, and solve problems for people who might never venture to Washington, D.C.
The work can be grueling. The hours are long, the stress can be high, and the pay is often low. It’s also a terrifically exciting place to work.
Congressional staffers are an eclectic mix. They include college dropouts, research scientists, best-selling authors, and a former mayor of Cleveland, Ohio. Unlike civil service, there are no tests to take and there is zero job protection. You can be fired on a moment’s notice. Keeping your boss happy and re-elected is the main goal.
Although they work for taxpayers, Congressional staffers are not representative of the national population. They are more likely to be white and young. Women fill about half the jobs, and while their pay tends to be lower than men’s, they have a greater likelihood of holding a top position than they would in the private sector. Staffers are more likely than other federal workers to have at least one advanced degree. Yet they’re paid about two thirds what they’d make at a federal agency, and much less than at a private company.
Few who take a job on the Hill last longer than two years. But for most of them, it’s the experience of a lifetime.