Lack of diversity continues to plague the North Carolina General Assembly

The Daily Beast reported yesterday on the fact that, despite America’s rapidly growing racial and ethnic diversity, the United States Congress remains an overwhelming white, male and Christian-dominated institution.

“The breakdown of the 114th Congress is 80 percent white, 80 percent male, and 92 percent Christian….It’s impossible to make the claim that our Congress accurately reflects the demographics of our nation. And it’s not missing by a little but a lot. If Congress accurately reflected our nation on the basis of race, about 63 percent would be white, not 80 percent. Blacks would hold about 13 percent of the seats and Latinos 17 percent.”

Sadly, a look at the North Carolina Senate and House of Representatives reveals a striking similar pattern.

In the North Carolina general population, less than one in three individuals is a non-Hispanic white male — around 32%. In state government, however, white men continue to monopolize government leadership positions. In the General Assembly, a quick count shows that more than 64% of the lawmakers (109 out of 170) are non-Hispanic white men. Minorities, who make up more than 35% of the state’s population inhabit just 20% of the seats in General Assembly. And all of those minority members are African American. Latinos, Asians and Pacific Islanders and Native Americans are completely unrepresented despite making up as much as 13% of the population.

Interestingly, white women are also badly underrepresented in the General Assembly. Despite making up around a third of the population, they fill just 15.2% of the seats on Jones Street. Obviously, they fare better in the Council of State — filling five of nine positions. But, of course, the fact that the other four are filled by white men serves to highlight that racial diversity amongst statewide elected officials is essentially non-existent.

As for religion, the Daily Beast notes that:

“Congress is now 92 percent Christian, resembling more to a papal enclave than our religiously diverse nation. The latest Pew Poll found that nearly 20 percent of Americans identify as atheist, agnostic, or not being affiliated with any religion. Yet there’s only one member of Congress, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who openly acknowledges she’s not a member of any religious group.”

We have less readily accessible information with respect to religious beliefs and affiliations of state elected officials, but as a regular observer of the activities on Jones Street for the past 20+  years – a place where legislative sessions are commenced with explicitly Christian prayers offered by clergy members and legislators with Protestant affiliations on an almost daily basis — I would be very surprised if the affiliations of lawmakers (at least as the publicly identify themselves) mirrored the North Carolina general public.

According to a 2014 Gallup poll, less than 70% of North Carolinians self-identify as “Protestant.” Meanwhile,  more than 7% say they “none” is their religion. If applied to the General Assembly, these numbers would result in more than 50 non-Protestants — 12 of whom would have no religious affiliation.

The bottom line: North Carolina has made some progress in recent decades when it comes to electing public officials who reflect the state’s increasingly diverse population, but as with the U.S. Congress, there’s still a long, long way to go.

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