If your goal is to get rich, a career in politics might not be the best choice. United States senators and representatives may earn six-figure salaries for serving in Congress, but politicians in local and state offices sometimes earn less than they would at a minimum wage job, according to salary date compiled by Ballotpedia.
Salaries for state legislators top $100,000 a year in California, but in many states, politicians earn just a few thousand dollars per year. In Texas, legislators make $7,200 annually, or $600 a month for a job that requires a minimum of 140 days of full-time work every two years. Though the job doesn’t come without its perks — legislators may get pension benefits, health insurance, and per diems to offset expenses when the legislature is in session — the pay is so low that it can make serving as a representative financially difficult for anyone who isn’t already well off.
“Many lawmakers must be independently wealthy or have flexible jobs that allow them to juggle politics and everyday work. Part-time legislators are also more likely than full-time legislators to be retirees,” according to FiveThirtyEight. They might also be more dependent on lobbyists for advice about legislation.
Though the idea of raising politicians’ salaries tends to be a non-starter, some believe paying our elected representatives more would be good for everyone. In addition to possibly making it feasible for more people to run for office, research has linked higher politician salaries with less corruption and more attention to citizen concerns (as opposed to those of special interest groups and lobbyists), Politico reported.
As it stands now, politician pay varies widely from state to state. Using information from Ballotpedia, we’ve ranked the states that pay their elected representatives the lowest and the highest base salaries.
States where politicians earn the least
Every state has a different way of determining salaries for their state legislators, which can make figuring out where politicians earn the least (and the most) challenging. To rank states, we’ve compared politicians’ base salaries when the legislature is in session. In states where lawmakers get paid a daily rate, we’ve calculated a salary based on the number of days the legislature usually meets. Though we didn’t factor it into the rankings, we’ve also noted other compensation lawmakers might receive, such as a per diem.
Here are the 10 states where lawmakers earn the least.
10. South Carolina
- Salary: $10,400
In South Carolina, legislators earn $10,400 per year for a legislative session that runs from January through June. They also get $140 for meals and housing for each day they’re in session or at a committee meeting, plus $1,000 a month for in-district expenses. Including salary as well as expense payments, legislators receive $31,000 per year on average, according to an analysis by The State in 2015.
- Salary: $10,000
Legislators in Mississippi earn $10,000 per year, plus a $140 per diem. Most legislative sessions last three months. However, each lawmaker also receives $1,500 every month for out-of-session work. They’re also reimbursed for mileage. Once you factor in all those different payments, the typical Mississippi lawmaker receives $40,000 to $50,000 per year, according to the Clarion-Ledger.
- Salary: $8,777.40
In Nevada, legislators earn $146.29 per day for a maximum of 60 days per session. That works out to a salary of about $8,777 per year. They also get $140 per day for expenses. Senate and assembly members can also be paid both their daily salary and per diem when they attend conferences, training, and other gatherings as an official representative of the state.
- Salary: $7,979.40
Kansas lawmakers earn $88.66 for each day of a 90-day legislative session, which occurs every other year. That works out to a little less than $8,000 annually. However, they also get an additional $7,000 every year to compensate them for the work they do in their districts, such as meeting with constituents, according to the Kansas City Star. Total compensation is about $15,000 per year, plus a per diem of $140 when the legislature is in session.
- Salary: $7,437
In Montana, legislators earn $82.64 per day, or $10.33 per hour, according to the Montana Legislature. That’s just about what you’d get working at Walmart. The legislature meets for no more than 90 days every other year, which means lawmakers receive a $7,437 salary in years when they gather in Helena. They also receive a per diem of $112.85.
- Salary: $7,200
Texas state senators and representative earn $7,200 per year, plus a $190 per diem. The legislature meets for 140 days every two years. The per diem translates to an additional $26,600 in compensation in the years when the representatives gather in the city of Austin.
4. South Dakota
- Salary: $6,000
South Dakota lawmakers earn $6,000 per session. Each legislative session can last no more than 40 days, and lawmakers receive a $140 per diem each day they’re in session. That works out to an additional $5,600 per year.
- Salary: $6,000
In Wyoming, lawmakers earn $150 per day for a legislative session that lasts 40 days in odd numbered years and 20 days in even numbered years. In an odd numbered year, state senators and representatives are paid $6,000; in even numbered years, $3,000. They also receive $109 per day for expenses.
2. New Hampshire
- Salary: $100
In New Hampshire, state senators and representatives are essentially volunteers. The New Hampshire constitution caps legislator pay at $200 per two-year term, or $100 annually. There’s no per diem, though elected representatives do get a mileage reimbursement.
1. New Mexico
- Salary: $0
New Mexico legislator salaries are the lowest in the United States. Elected representatives don’t earn a thing, though they do receive $163 per day for expenses while the legislature is in session and if they’re attending committee meetings. They’re also reimbursed for mileage. In 2015, the average legislator’s compensation was more than $20,000, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News.
Next: The states where politicians earn the most
States where politicians earn the most
Most states are stingy with politician salaries, but a handful generously compensate lawmakers. Often, high salaries go hand-in-hand with a legislature that meets year-round. In those states, being a representative is a full-time job, and the salary reflects the greater time commitment.
In these 10 states legislators all earn more than $50,000 per year.
- Salary: $50,400
Alaska legislators earn just over $50,000 every year for a 90-day legislative session. Lawmakers also receive a per diem of $223 or $249 when they’re in session, depending on the time of the year. Once the per diem and other sources of money like expense accounts are factored in, elected officials can take home $10,000 to $11,000 for every month they’re meeting in Juneau and more than $100,000 every year, KTUU calculated.
- Salary: $50,950
In Wisconsin, legislators earn just under $51,000 annually. Most state senators get a per diem of $88, while assembly members get $138 daily. (Those who live in Dane County, home to the state capital of Madison, get a smaller per diem.) The state has a full-time legislature.
- Salary: $60,180
Hawaii legislators earn about $60,000 annually. State representatives who live outside Oahu also receive $175 per day for expenses like food and housing during the 60-day legislative session. Those living on Oahu get $10 per day. Senators and representatives who live on other islands are also reimbursed for flights to and from Oahu.
- Salary: $60,584
Lawmakers in Ohio earn more than $60,000 per year. However, they don’t get a per diem, which means that meals, lodging, and other expenses during the legislative session must be paid out of their own pocket. They are reimbursed for mileage to and from the state house. The state has a full-time legislature.
- Salary: $62,547
Massachusetts elected representatives currently earn $62,547 annually, with base pay tied to the state’s median income, according to CBS Boston. Lawmakers recently voted to give some elected officials raises, including the speaker of the house and the senate president. The state has a full-time legislature.
- Salary: $67,836
Illinois legislators earn $67,836 every year, plus a $111 per diem when the legislature is in session. Sixty-seven percent of lawmakers receive additional stipends for serving in leadership roles or on a committee, according to Illinois Policy, which means some earn close to six figures. The state has a full-time legislature.
- Salary: $71,685
In addition to earning a salary of close to $72,000 every year, Michigan lawmakers also receive a $10,800 annual expense allowance, but there is no per diem. Salaries and expense accounts haven’t changed since 2011, when legislators took a 10% pay cut. The state has a full-time legislature.
3. New York
- Salary: $79,500
In New York, lawmakers earn nearly $80,000 per year. The per diem is $174 for legislators who stay overnight in Albany when the legislature is in session, and $59 per day for all others. Despite having the third-highest salaries in the country, New York lawmakers haven’t had a salary increase in 17 years, and the state’s compensation commission recently denied the request for a pay bump. The state has a full-time legislature.
- Salary: $86,478.50
Pennsylvania lawmakers earn $86,478.50 per year, after a 1.34% increase that took effect in 2017. The raise was the result of an automatic cost-of-living adjustment, according to Penn Live. They also receive a $175 per diem on days the full-time legislature is in session.
- Salary: $104,115
With their six-figure salaries, California state senators and assembly members are the highest paid in the U.S. Wages for lawmakers in 2017 are a few thousand dollars higher than 2016 after a 4% pay raise. Salaries are still below what they were before the recession, when the state’s compensation commission cut pay by 18%. Legislators also receive $175 per day when the full-time legislature is in session.