NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Are Lawyers Saying Good-Bye To Politics?

February 22, 1999

Lawyers have always been a staple of American politics, overcoming -- on a proportional basis -- representations by farmers, teachers, engineers and entrepreneurs. But in the state -- and even in the U.S. Congress -- that seems to be changing. In short, lawyers can make more money on their own than in elected office and they are increasingly choosing to go for the money.

  • The percentage of lawyers serving in the U.S. Congress dropped from 58 percent in 1969 to 43 percent this year.
  • In New York, the proportion cascaded from 61 percent in 1969 to 34 percent in 1999.
  • In California, just 22 percent make up the legislature this year, versus 48 percent in 1969.
  • In all states as of 1976, lawyers made up 22 percent of legislators -- a figure which dropped to 16 percent as of 1995.
  • In 1976, some 31 percent of state legislators listed their occupations as business or professional. That population dropped to 27 percent in 1995. As of 1976, some 10 percent said they were in agriculture -- with only 8 percent tilling the soil as of 1995

    During the same period, teacher representation dropped from 8 percent to 7 percent.

    Other categories such as insurance and real estate also dropped.

    So from what other fields did legislators come from? "Retired" was not a category in the 1976 survey, but it accounted for 8 percent in 1995. Also, 3 percent of legislators identified themselves as "full-time" legislators in 1976, which rose to 14 percent in 1995. That could have included some lawyers.

    This year, California legislators earn $99,000 a year and those in New York get about $90,000. Last year, legislators in 39 states were paid less than $30,000. The annual salary in Congress is $133,600 -- and the benefits are generous.

    Source: Richard Perez-Pena, "Lawyers Abandon Legislatures for Greener Pastures," New York Times, February 21, 1999.

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