Part Three: Underrepresentation in Congress: What Are The Consequences?
When Congress fails to accurately represent the American population, many groups are excluded from consequential lawmaking. As a result, policies that address long-standing structural inequities may not be discussed, let alone passed, shaping people’s daily lives. Recognizing the specific issues minority communities face is crucial to understanding the larger significance of representation.
Across the country, LGBTQ+ Americans face a variety of issues that are different from non-LGBTQ+ Americans. The Center for American Progress studied the effects of discrimination on 1,528 LGBTQ adults. Their findings included the following:
“More than 1 in 3 LGBTQ Americans faced discrimination of some kind in the past year, including more than 3 in 5 transgender Americans”
“To avoid the experience of discrimination, more than half of LGBTQ Americans report hiding a personal relationship, and about one-fifth to one-third have altered other aspects of their personal or work lives”
“Discrimination adversely affects the mental and economic well-being of many LGBTQ Americans, including 1 in 2 who report moderate or significant negative psychological impacts”
“Around 3 in 10 LGBTQ Americans faced difficulties last year accessing necessary medical care due to cost issues, including more than half of transgender Americans”
These are all significant and problematic issues. Thankfully, increased representation for LGBTQ+ Americans in Congress could lead to bills that protect LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination or bills that expand access to healthcare. In fact, a 2013 study indicates that just having a few LGBTQ+ members of Congress can lead to a better quality of life for all LGBTQ+ Americans. The study, published in The American Political Science Review argues:
“[T]he presence of even a small number of openly gay legislators is associated significantly with the future passage of enhanced gay rights, even after including controls for social values, democracy, government ideology, and electoral system design. Once openly gay legislators are in office they have a transformative effect on the views and voting behavior of their straight colleagues.”
While this study focused on representation for gay Americans, the there’d likely be similar effects if other groups of LGBTQ+ people were represented in Congress. As a result, this study emphasizes the need for equal representation for all LGBTQ+ Americans, as having just a few more LGBTQ+ Americans in Congress could shift Congress’ priorities.
Due to a long-standing history of racism and a general exclusion from U.S policy, Latino Americans face a variety of issues stemming from a lack of access to resources and opportunity.
General confidence among Latino Americans about their place in America also falls short. In 2018, 47 percent of Latino Americans claimed that the state of the U.S for Latino Americans was worse than a year earlier, up from 15 percent in 2013. This decrease in optimism is represented in a few key areas where Latino Americans needs are consistently not met and interest in reform is highest, including education, the economy, and health care:
Education: The high school graduation rate among Latinos was 78 percent in 2013, compared with 86 percent among white students. Additionally, 21 percent of Latino eighth graders were proficient in reading compared to 44 percent of white eighth graders. Adverse socioeconomic conditions and a lack of educational resources contribute to this disparity in education.
The Economy: The average Latino household has a net worth of $20,000, compared to $100,000 for non-Latino families. Access to saving services prohibits long-term saving, with only 15% of Latino families having three months of living expenses stored in accessible accounts, compared to 42 percent of non-Latino families. Furthermore, only 28% of Latino families had high financial literacy, compared to 43% of white families. Without access to financial resources and education, Latino families will continue to fall behind in important metrics of financial stability and success.
Health Care: More than 7 million Latino Americans (39%) go without healthcare coverage, limiting available medical care by about 50%. Additionally, significant language barriers between Latino American patients and medical professionals, as well as a deficiency of Latino American healthcare professionals, limits the capacity of effective medical care.
Without representation in national and state governments, Latino Americans face these issues without any advocacy in government, limiting solutions greatly.
Economic inequality has long been present in America, and existing institutions, such as government welfare programs and affordable healthcare, have been created to provide a helping hand to countless families and increase social mobility. Despite this progress, lower and middle income families still struggle financially.
61 percent of Americans claim that there is too much economic inequality, and for good reason: from 1983 to 2016, the median wealth of upper class families increased from $344,100 to $848,000, with their share of U.S aggregate wealth increasing from 60% to 79%, while the median wealth of lower class families decreasing from $12,300 to $11,300, with their share of U.S aggregate wealth decreasing from 7% to 4%. This great disparity in wealth and economic opportunity can be represented by a few key areas where governmental assistance falls short:
Generational Poverty: 20 percent of children and 25 percent of parents live in households with incomes below the poverty line. However, poverty also depends largely on race: 31% of black and native american children, 27% of hispanic children, and 25% of pacific islander children lived in poverty, compared to only 11% of asian and white children. This lack of financial stability limits economic mobility for both parents and children.
Education: 73% of children who have parents with no high school diplomas live in poverty, and 46% of children that have parents with a high school diploma but no college education live in poverty. On the other hand, only 17% of children that have parents with college degrees live in poverty. With higher costs for higher education and greater disparities in K-12 education equality, opportunities for future economic success are limited without proper educational access.
Job Availability: Among low income parents, parents had very limited employment opportunities and often took any available jobs they could find, jobs provided unstable income, work schedules were inflexible, and job inflexibility and a lack of childcare made it difficult to support children. Without jobs that can provide these bare necessities, low income parents seeking work that can afford economic mobility will not be presented with many opportunities.
Without members of Congress that can represent the diverse needs of low and middle income families, and with hefty financial barriers to running for office, low income Americans will continue to lack basic economic stability.
The lack of diversity in Congress does not only counter democratic values — it tangibly harms many Americans’ lives. Without political representation, many structural inequities, along with the needs of specific communities, are not addressed. Legislators and everyday Americans must work to create a system in which a more diverse Congress is elected.
This is Part Three of a three-part series.