Posted on February 5, 2021

Racial, Ethnic Diversity Increases Yet Again With the 117th Congress

Katherine Schaeffer, Pew Research Center, January 28, 2021

About a quarter of voting members (23%) of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are racial or ethnic minorities, making the 117th Congress the most racially and ethnically diverse in history. There has been a long-running trend toward higher numbers of non-White lawmakers on Capitol Hill: This is the sixth Congress to break the record set by the one before it.

Overall, 124 lawmakers today identify as Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander or Native American, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Congressional Research Service. This represents a 97% increase over the 107th Congress of 2001-03, which had 63 minority members.

Among today’s senators and representatives, the overwhelming majority of racial and ethnic minority members are Democrats (83%), while 17% are Republicans. This represents a shift from the last Congress, when just 10% of non-White lawmakers were Republicans. Our analysis reflects the 532 voting members of Congress seated as of Jan. 26, 2021.

Although recent Congresses have continued to set new highs for racial and ethnic diversity, they have still been disproportionately White when compared with the overall U.S. population. Non-Hispanic White Americans account for 77% of voting members in the new Congress, considerably larger than their 60% share of the U.S. population overall. This gap hasn’t narrowed with time: In 1981, 94% of members of Congress were White, compared with 80% of the U.S. population.

In the House of Representatives, however, representation of some racial and ethnic groups is now on par with their share of the total population. For example, 13% of House members are Black, about equal to the share of Black Americans. And Native Americans now make up about 1% of both the House and the U.S. population.