By the Numbers: the jobs of the First Congress vs. the 112th Congress

Whenever someone mentions “Election 2012,” your first thought is probably of the race for the White House. But this November, don’t forget we also have elections for seats in Congress. Just as in the presidential election, just about everything about the candidates will come under close scrutiny: their background, their history—and their occupation.

With that in mind, the staff of Constitution Daily compiled a comparison between the First U.S. Congress and the current one, looking at the occupational breakdown between their members. The results were, in some ways, predictable, but there were still a few surprises. (Who knew there was a comedian among their ranks?) Here’s the full list:

First U.S. Congress (1789–1791)
91 total members
65 representatives
26 senators

34 lawyers
15 soldiers
12 planters/farmers
11 businessmen/merchants
6 clergymen
5 statesmen/career politicians
4 physicians
3 teachers
1 diplomat

112th Congress (2011–2012)
539 total members*
435 representatives
100 senators
6 non-voting members

209 businessmen and women
208 public servants
200 lawyers
81 educators
34 agricultural professionals (including two almond orchard owners)
32 medical professionals (including doctors, veterinarians, ophthalmologists, dentists, a psychiatrist, psychologists, an optometrist, and nurses)
17 journalists
9 accountants
9 scientists
9 social workers
9 military reserves
7 law enforcement officers (including FBI and Border Patrol)
5 ministers
4 pilots
4 Peace Corps volunteers
2 professional football players
2 screenwriters
1 firefighter
1 astronaut
1 documentary filmmaker
1 comedian

*Many Congress members list more than one profession, which is why the totals for professions add up to more than the number of Congress members.

Although the First Congress had a limited variety of professions, the general make up of both are relatively similar. As you can see, from the time the First Congress met, law has been a top profession; in both bodies, about 37 percent of the members are lawyers. It makes sense–the people writing the laws need to have a deep understanding of how the legal system works. But do lawyers make the best politicians?

Some might argue that with the current economic climate, a business or economic background might be more helpful. That’s reflected in the fact that the number of businesspeople in Congress has jumped from 12 percent to 38 percent of members. One could also argue that diversity is important, so that a variety of fields and professions have a voice in policy making. Then again, perhaps today’s members of Congress should focus on their current job—their approval rating could certainly use a lift.

So what do you think? Did any of the occupations surprise you? What field do you think should have more representation? What profession makes the best politician? Let us know in the comments!