by Erin Covey
Slowly but surely, the U.S. Congress has begun to better reflect the nation.
But even as the House and the Senate have gradually become more diverse, the rate at which that happens has appeared to decline. The number of women and nonwhite members in the 118th Congress has only marginally increased compared to the 117th, and this Congress is one of the oldest in the history of the United States.
118th Congress by Gender
Women serving in Congress added just two to their number after the 2022 election cycle: 149 women are in the 118th Congress, a slight uptick from 147 in the 117th Congress, according to the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
This is a significantly smaller increase compared to the past few years. After the 2020 election 20 more women joined Congress, and after 2018 the number of women grew by 16.
Altogether, women still make up less than 30 percent of Congress — 25 percent of the Senate and 29 percent in the House. This year marks the record for the largest number of women in the House, though not in the Senate, where the current record is 26 women.
The percentage of women in the freshman class of lawmakers is actually slightly smaller than the percentage of women in Congress as a whole. Twenty-three out of 81 new members, or 28 percent, of the freshmen are women.
Several women elected to Congress this past November made history in their states. Republican Sen. Katie Boyd Britt, who succeeded longtime Sen. Richard Shelby, became the first woman elected to the Senate from Alabama. And in the House, Democratic Rep. Becca Balint became the first woman ever elected to Congress from Vermont. Democratic Reps. Yadira Caraveo and Delia Ramirez became the first Latinas elected to Congress from Colorado and Illinois, respectively, and Democratic Rep. Summer Lee became the first Black woman elected to Congress from Pennsylvania.
In recent years the Republican Party has placed a higher priority on recruiting women to run for Congress — and on supporting women running in contested GOP primaries. But Democratic women still dramatically outnumber Republican women in Congress. Less than a third of women in the House and Senate are Republicans, and among the 23 new women in Congress this year, eight are Republicans.
118th Congress by Race and Ethnicity
While the number of Latino members increased marginally after the 2022 election cycle, the number of members who identify as Black or Asian American has effectively held steady.
There are 55 Latino members of Congress in the House and Senate, compared to 48 members at the beginning of the 117th. The new Congress is 10 percent Latino, significantly less than the national population percentage of 19 percent Latino. But among freshmen lawmakers, 14 out of 81, or 17 percent, identify as Latino — much more reflective of the United State’s population.
Notably, five of those 14 freshmen are Republicans. After the GOP made gains with Latino voters in 2020, a historic number of Latino Republicans ran for Congress last cycle, to mixed success. Roughly 25 percent of all Hispanic members in Congress (14 out of 55) are Republicans.
Latina lawmakers also made history on the West Coast: Democratic Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez became the first Latino member of Congress from Washington, and Reps. Andrea Salinas and Lori Chavez-DeRemer became the first Latino members of Congress from Oregon.
However, the number of Black members of Congress has held steady at 60 members. Not counting Kamala Harris, who resigned from the Senate in mid-January, the 117th Congress had 60 Black lawmakers at the beginning of 2021.
In total, Black members hold 11.5 percent of seats in the 118th Congress. A higher percentage of freshmen are Black: 11 out of 81 members, or 13.6 percent, almost identical to the Black population in the U.S. according to the Census Bureau.
With the election of Rep. John James in Michigan and Rep. Wesley Hunt in Texas, five Black Republicans are serving in Congress (four in the House, one in the Senate) for the first time since the Reconstruction Era.
The number of Asian American and Pacific Islander members also remained the same after the 2022 election cycle. Eighteen Asian American and Pacific Islander lawmakers serve in Congress, just 3 percent. Asian Americans — the fastest growing racial group in the country — make up more than 6 percent of the country’s population.
Rep. Jill Tokuda, who is Japanese American, and Rep. Shri Thanedar, the first Indian American elected to Congress from Michigan, are the only two Asian American members in the House freshman class. California Reps. And Michelle Steel and Young Kim, both first elected in 2020, are still the lone Republican Asian Americans in Congress.
The class of freshman senators is even less racially diverse. But it’s worth noting that Oklahoma Sen. Markwayne Mullin, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, became the first Native American in the upper chamber in almost two decades. His successor in the House, Oklahoma Rep. Josh Brecheen, is a citizen of the Choctaw Nation.
118th Congress by Age
Even as Florida voters elected the country’s first Gen Z member, this Congress is still one of the oldest in the history of the U.S.
Per data compiled by NBC, the average age of House members in the 118th Congress is 57.5 years-old, and the average age of senators is 63.9 years-old. Congress is just slightly younger than it was two years ago, when the average age of House members was 58.4 years and the average age of senators was 64.3 years.
Democratic Rep. Maxwell Frost, 25, is now the youngest member of the House — and the first member of Afro-Cuban descent.
Georgia’s Sen. Jon Ossoff remains the youngest U.S. senator. But Ohio’s newly elected senator, J.D. Vance, is now the second youngest senator (and the youngest Republican senator) at 38 years-old.
Perhaps the most consequential generational milestone this year was in House Democratic’ leadership. At 52 years-old, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York succeeded Nancy Pelosi and became the first House Democratic leader born after World War II. With Jeffries, Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, and Rep. Pete Aguilar of California now at the helm, the average age of House Democrats’ “Big Three” fell from 82 to 51 years old.
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