Ocasio-Cortez Senior Staffers To Receive Pay Cuts So Others Can Make ‘Living Wage’

Font Size:

New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will likely need to cut senior staff salaries in order to afford the “living wage” the freshman congresswoman intends to pay every staff member.

Ocasio-Cortez tweeted about her staff’s upcoming pay structure on Friday along with a link to a Roll Call story on the topic.

“Leadership starts with our choices,” she wrote. “That’s why I decided that no one on my staff will make less than $52k/year. It’s likely one of the highest entry-level salaries on the Hill. We pinch pennies elsewhere, but it’s worth every dime to pay a living wage.”

Roll Call reported that the $52,000 per year is “an almost unheard of amount for many of the 20-somethings whose long hours make House and Senate offices run.” Rent for an apartment in Washington D.C. averages “more than $2,000 a month,” which contributes to a cost of living that is “unsustainable,” according to an Ocasio-Cortez staffer the outlet interviewed.

“I needed an office that was going to pay me a fair wage,” said staffer Claudia Pagon Marchena.

In tweets defending the move, Ocasio-Cortez blamed Republicans for refusing “to increase budgets in years,” meaning she only has a set amount to distribute to her staff. (RELATED: Report Seems To Undermine Ocasio-Cortez Claim To Not Be Able To Afford D.C. Apartment)

“Low pay a big reason why money in politics is a problem,” she wrote. “[Y]ou can make a lot more money becoming a lobbyist & setting up a relationship w/ one, since the actual job doesn’t pay enough. Domino effect.”

But the way the New York congresswoman is choosing to distribute her staff salary funds could be a key dividing line between her Democratic Socialist worldview and the free market from which she must draw her employees. Roll Call pointed out that’s because senior staffers, presumably doing more important work than lower-level staff, will likely need to take pay cuts in order to afford their boss’s “living wage” for all.

Roll Call reported:

Ocasio-Cortez’s solution requires sacrifices for staffers at the top of the pay scale, potentially opening her to criticism from the right that her office policies, like her political identity as a Democratic socialist, call for a form of class warfare.

It could also pose challenges to attracting and retaining older employees who have obligations such as mortgages and child care — which in D.C. can cost $23,000 a year for a single child.

Ocasio-Cortez communications director Corbin Trent told Roll Call that salaries will top out at $80,000, far less than the median pay of $154,634 a chief of staff would make, and “a fraction of what experienced staffers could make in other jobs in Washington.”

Trent, who reportedly is making $67,000 a year and has two children, called the fact that some, including himself, will have to take a pay cut a trade-off of sorts, according to Roll Call.

“I don’t think you always put the burden on the bottom,” he told Roll Call. “Is it easy? No, but part of walking the walk is understanding that everyone is going to have a little bit of a struggle. You divide it up. You work together.”

Follow Scott on Twitter