Ocasio-Cortez Can’t Afford DC Rent – How Our Government Excludes Working Class Leadership

Rising star of progressive politics Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently confessed that she’s facing a financial quandary: she can’t afford an apartment in D.C. until she starts receiving her Congressional salary.

Earning $174,000 per year as a U.S. representative, she should be fine once that first check kicks in, but there’s some downtime between the election and taking office. In the meantime, ethically, she can’t be working a job for a private enterprise, nor can she accept some kickback that might get her housing situation sorted. Instead, she’s living off money she “squirreled away” at her previous job at a restaurant.

Ocasio-Cortez’s problem is surprisingly unique to her because there aren’t a lot of people of her socioeconomic background in Congress. Surely other working class people would face similar issues if they were elected to federal office, but the average person elected to the U.S. House of Reps has a net worth of about $1 million (in the Senate, it’s three times that) and can afford to pay pricy rent in advance and go months without collecting a paycheck.

That’s the reason Ocasio-Cortez went public with her dilemma in the first place – to demonstrate just how much the political system favors the rich. She wants to be part of a movement that transforms our current wealth inequality, but to do so she’s going to need more working class legislators to join her ranks, although the current system makes that almost impossible.

Running a campaign is wildly expensive – to get off the ground, it helps to either have your own money or wealthy friends to get your bid going. Parties usually back candidates who they believe have the resources (connections to rich people/businesses) to do most of the fundraising themselves. Right from the jump, that makes most middle class candidates seem unviable.

For a seat in the U.S. House, campaigning becomes a full-time job. Again, that eliminates a lot of working class people who couldn’t dream of going without collecting a salary that long. Now add to that that shoring up difficult-to-find affordable housing in D.C. after cruising for months off your personal savings, and the situation gets even more difficult.

The real question is whether these inherent problems are flaws of the system or intentionally by design. It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to look at how rich our legislators are and notice rules that practically ensure our country will continue to be led by our richest, effectively squashing any shot at a real working class revolution.

After Ocasio-Cortez’s announcement, Fox News pundits went on air and pretty much mocked the congresswoman-elect for being poor. As they see it, success is tied to finances, and Ocasio-Cortez is a lesser person since she can’t secure thousands-of-dollars for housing during a period of unemployment.

Fortunately, Ocasio-Cortez is not letting that nonsense get to her, tweeting “There is no reason to be ashamed or embarrassed.” From there, she pointed out that “40% of ALL Americans currently struggle to pay for one basic need like food or rent. As much as Fox News likes to mock the working class, the real scandal is that at the wealthiest point in our history, we are at one of our most unequal.”

Right on, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. The deck may be stacked against people of modest means like her, but that’s all the more reason we need to find ways to put people who are concerned with class and wealth equality into office!

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Marie W
Marie W25 days ago

Thank you

heather g
heather g7 months ago

She's been outspoken and it's a shame that people haven't come forward to help her.

Freya H
Freya H8 months ago

We need people who genuinely represent the struggling working class in our government because they've been there, done that. We need people who have the motivation to reform our election system and get dirty money out of politics. To you naysayers down there, I say, you clearly have never been in her position. Were you all born with silver spoons in your mouths? Don't criticize people till you have walked from dawn to dusk in their moccasins.

Kelsey S
Kelsey S8 months ago


Leo C
Leo Custer8 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

Pam Bruce
Pam Bruce8 months ago

This is a big issue almost anywhere these days. Sharing a place is probably the only way to go, at least for a while. I lived in my truck while going to college and this was back in the '70s. Certain regions need to have rent control. I pity any of the areas Amazon is moving into. Maybe they will allow you to camp out in their parking lot.

Carol B
Carol B8 months ago

Air bnb, friends? I am sure someone in DC would be honored to put her up. And I appreciate her making her financial situation public. She's a person of the people!

Danuta W
Danuta W8 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Debbi W
Debbi W8 months ago

That could be a problem for other new representatives, too. I hadn't thought about it, but unless you have a financial means winning can also mean seeing looming debt until you begin receiving your wages. Rent in a good area, not posh, could be quite expensive. Two new representatives sharing an apartment could be helpful . Things will be changing and we need to be supportive of our newly elected congressmen.

Anne M
Anne Moran8 months ago

Couldn't she live with her parents, till she gets her first cheque ?? - These days a big majority of millenials have moved back into their parents' home, because they have the same exact problem Ocasio-Cortez has... - It's not shameful to be poor,, especially in this day and age , when everything/rent especially, is soooo expensive...