Do State Legislators Match up to their Small Business Constituents?

Date: January 07, 2016

New research breaks down the occupational backgrounds of state lawmakers and reveals fewer farmers.

What backgrounds do your state lawmakers have—and do they relate to your small business?

While lawmakers with business backgrounds continue to hold the biggest share of legislative seats at state capitols, those who work in the agricultural field are dwindling.  

Agriculture is one of the top industries for NFIB members. Find out how NFIB is fighting for the best interest of small business.

More than half (55 percent) of state legislators nationwide work in business, are lawyers or say lawmaking is their main profession, according to a survey conducted by Stateline and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). In contrast, back in 1967, 61 percent of legislators came from those fields.

Farmers on the Decline

There’s been a sharp drop in the share of lawmakers who work in agriculture, though. Since 1976, the percentage has fallen from 9.7 to 4.6 percent.

As an example, Pennsylvania’s State Senate has only one farmer in its ranks: Elder Vogel Jr., a fourth-generation dairy farmer. Vogel, who chairs the Pennsylvania Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee, told Stateline he’s concerned the voice of independent farmers will be drowned out:

“Without someone there to say, ‘Whoa, let’s take a second look at this—this might not be the best thing for farmers,’ we’re going to get steamrolled,” he said. 

Find out why a Supreme Court ruling on California raisins can help prevent the government from seizing property at your small business.

And North Dakota’s General Assembly—which had the largest percentage of farmers, at 42 percent in 1986—saw the largest drop in representation. Today, farmers make up only 16 percent (23 out of 141 lawmakers) of the state legislature.  

Contributing to the shrinking representation of farmers is the overall demographic shift of populations moving away from rural areas and into urban areas, according to Chris Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, told Stateline.

Other Occupations on the Rise

Representation of other occupations, such as consulting and nonprofit fields, is growing, however—from 3 percent in 1986 to 8.2 percent.

Interestingly, the study notes a slight increase in the number of lawmakers who work in the clergy. Thirty years ago, those in religious orders comprised 0.4 percent of state legislatures. Now, that number’s risen a bit to 0.8 percent.

Related Content: Analysis | Agriculture | Economy | Elections | National

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