South Carolina Legislators: What do they do for a living?

In most states, serving in the legislature doesn't pay enough to pay the bills, so the question of "how DO they earn a living" is one which was recently examined in a study by the National Conference of State Legislatures, which found that nationally:

Full-Time Legislators have now become the largest occupational group in legislatures with 16.4% of legislators classifying themselves as such. Previously, attorneys had been the largest occupational group but that profession has decreased substantially over the last three decades from about 25% in the mid-seventies to only about 15% today. Retired legislators make up the third largest occupational group in legislatures at approximately 12%.
By contrast, the study showed that lawyers making the law still make up a large part of the South Carolina General Assembly. The study found that attorneys are still the largest occupational group, comprising 25% of the legislature, while business executives comprise 18% and retirees 12%.


State Senator Shane Massey, an attorney himself, believed lawyers were motivated to seek legislative service, as well as in a career path which was friendly to serving:

Lawyers are involved in the law by the nature of our profession, so naturally we're interested in it. Many attorneys have the flexibility to serve and keep up with the time demands associated with serving in Columbia, as well as other things like delegation and community meetings.
The big difference in the between the top three occupations in national and state surveys was the near lack of full-time legislators in South Carolina. But considering that legislators are paid a mere $12K here, it's much harder to be just a legislator than those in the nine states where legislators are considered full-time, earning between $45K in Wisconsin and $110K in California, according to a 2005 study by Stateline.org.

When we talked with Florence Representative Phillip Lowe, he pointed out that people in many occupations don't serve in the General Assembly because of the need to meet career and business obligations:

You have to have a business you can walk away from. In a career such as medicine where you have to be hands-on, you can't just go to the State House and work. If I wasn't a business owner as well, I couldn't just walk away. It's an honor to serve, but serving comes at a high price - it probably costs my business about $100,000 a year for me to go to Columbia.
While 43% of legislative members are either executives or attorneys, far more than the state's population as a whole, House Speaker Bobby Harrell believed the legislature to be gradually diversifying:

The S.C. House is becoming a more diverse body with every election - in almost every aspect, not just in regards to Legislators’ occupations. Which is something I consider to be positive because the more diverse this legislative body becomes, the better it represents our entire state.

In the past, this was a lawyer-dominated group, but we have seen that change over time. For an example of how that is changing, as a small business owner I am the first non-lawyer Speaker of the House in over half a century. And our membership now includes educators, preachers, farmers, health care representatives, small business owners, etc. One of the fastest growing demographics in the House is small business owners and entrepreneurs. Considering the fact that 95% of all employers in South Carolina are small business owners, this is a very key demographic.
Given the large amount of time legislators serve in this state, relative to others, as well as the low pay, only those who can afford to serve (or whose employers can afford to spare them) will be heading to Columbia.

Tomorrow, we'll look at the "Road Warriors" of the General Assembly and see just how much time legislators have to commit on the road and away from home, and how that impacts those who serve in the legislature.

2 Response to "South Carolina Legislators: What do they do for a living?"

  1. Anonymous 2/2/10 09:38
    Very good post!
  2. Anonymous 2/2/10 22:40
    The new site is great Earl!

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