From developing policies relating to the environment and education to passing laws that protect the community, legislators affect people’s lives every day. Legislators include city and county council members, state representatives and senators, and members of the U.S. Congress. They are elected by the voters they represent to frame policy and pass laws at the local, state or federal level.
As members of the legislative, or lawmaking, branch of government, legislators work on making changes to existing laws or passing new legislation based on their constituents’ needs. They often serve on committees that oversee various aspects of government policy; most laws are developed by these committees and then voted on by the entire legislative body.
By staying on top of important issues and current events, meeting with constituents and advisers, and conducting research, legislators can make informed decisions. Additional legislator duties include:
- Creating policies, budgets and programs
- Participating in debates on proposed legislation
- Seeking funding for their districts
- Negotiating with other lawmakers to gain consensus and move legislation forward
- Making public appearances, presentations and speeches
Achieving success as a legislator means collaborating with various interest groups, listening to constituents’ concerns, and debating and compromising with colleagues.
Some legislative positions, such as U.S. senator, are full-time. Local and state government officials may balance part-time legislative duties with full-time jobs. Work hours can vary depending on whether a legislative body is in session, and state and federal lawmakers must travel between their home district and the seat of government.
Job Outlook and Salary Range for Legislators
Because the number of local, state and federal legislators seldom changes, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not project any increase in the number of jobs nationally between 2014 and 2024. However, since these are elected positions, opportunities regularly arise for individuals interested in entering the field. Additionally, opportunities may be more prevalent in particular geographic areas based on demographic shifts and election cycles.
Competition is generally strong for legislative positions
The BLS reports that legislator salaries vary based on level of government, specific position and full- or part-time status. In 2016, the median annual wage for legislators was $23,470, with the top 10% earning more than $96,500.
Education and Training for Legislators
There are no minimum education requirements to run for legislative office, although many candidates have a bachelor’s degree or higher, commonly in a discipline such as political science, law or business. For most elected positions, a candidate must be a U.S. citizen of voting age and a resident of the district or state he or she is seeking to represent.
Because legislators should have strong leadership, decision-making and interpersonal skills, work experience is typically an important consideration. Some lawmakers may be elected after serving as legislative aides, volunteering for community service organizations, or working for social interest or political action groups.
Serving as a legislator at the local level can be a springboard to state or federal office.
Military Occupational Specializations
Military service is associated with instilling the values of leadership and service to others, attributes also associated with the civilian role of legislator.
In addition, a number of military occupational specializations incorporate specific duties and responsibilities that may translate well to those of a lawmaker. For example, Navy personnel assigned to business management roles must be able to lead and motivate people to accomplish common goals. In the Air Force, planning and programming officers develop and write plans, programs and policies, and Army civil affairs officers must develop and facilitate relationships