On November 7, America elected its most diverse Congress ever.
The midterm elections for the Senate and House of Representatives brought in a record number of politicians from all sorts of cultural and religious backgrounds. Their victories mark a new milestone in the demographic makeup of Congress, which has historically been dominated by white men.
Congress's past members and their characteristics prove just how far the country has come. In the 79th Congress, which took office in 1945, only 1% of members were nonwhite. That same year, not a single woman served in the entire Congress, comprising approximately 535 lawmakers.
Sixteen years later, only three African Americans and twenty women held seats in the House or Senate, and though this rose to seventeen African American members by 1981, only one woman was added in that time. Native Americans, followed by Asian Americans and Hispanics, are the least represented minorities in Congress. Growth in the number of members from these backgrounds has been the slowest by far.
In 1982, with passage of the Voting Rights Act, representation of minorities skyrocketed, thanks to the redrawing of district lines throughout the United States. A similar thing occurred in 1992; after what had largely been seen as the insensitive handling of Anita Hill's testimony during the Clarence Thomas Senate hearings prompted a record number of women to run for office.
Though the most recent midterm outcomes are more the product of slow change than one groundbreaking event (though, you could argue that the somewhat successful "blue wave" played a role -- women and minorities make up a majority of the Democratic party at present, compared to the 88% white male Republican House membership) they proved to be significant. On Wednesday, a record number of women -- one hundred! -- became part of the 116th Congress, including the first Native American and Muslim women to ever serve.
Massachusetts and Connecticut elected their first African American Congresswomen, Democrats Ayanna Pressley and Jahana Hayes. Texas elected its first Latina Congresswomen, Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar, both Democrats. And Iowa elected women to the House for the first time in its history -- Democrats Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne. Not to mention, Arizona and Tennessee both elected their first female senators.
The election of a more diverse Congress means that the United States government will begin to better resemble America's diverse population. In 2017, about 20.7% of Congress was female, compared to the 50.8% female population of the whole United States. Though Hispanics made up 18.1% of the population that same year, their representation in Congress -- 8.5% -- was little more than half that. Finally, those of Asian and Pacific Islander ancestry made up a little over three percent of the Congress last year, half of their total presence in the United States population, standing at six percent. The results of this last election stand to shift these percentages and make them more equal on each side, painting a more accurate picture of America's diversity.
Not only did the midterms have implications for Congress's demographics, but also for the kinds of legislation it passes. In the past, the addition of more women and minorities in Congress has led to more legislation attentive to the interests and issues of these groups. In other words: progress leads to more progress.