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What is it like to be a politician?

Politicians run Federal, State, and local governments. They are the Nation's chief executives and legislators. They get their jobs by being elected. They make and pass laws that affect all of us.

You know some politicians. The President and Vice President of the United States are politicians. The governor of your State is also. So are your Senators and Representative in Congress. The mayor of your town is a politician. So is your elected school board member or county council member.

Chief executives are responsible for their organizations. They work with people who make laws. They set goals and then decide how to reach them. They hire heads of offices and they make budgets. They also nominate people for other jobs in government. They get bids from contractors to do public work, like building roads. They meet with other executives to solve problems. They rely on many people to help them do this work. In small towns, they do most of the work themselves.

Legislators pass laws. They bring up bills and vote on others. In preparing legislation, they work with all parties with an interest in it. They approve budgets and appointments submitted by the chief executive. Chief executives and legislators also perform many ceremonial duties.

Time spent at work can vary a lot. A local council member may meet only once a month. A U.S. Senator may work 60 hours or more a week. Many State legislators work full time while in session (usually for 2 to 6 months a year) and part time the rest of the year. Most local elected officials work a full-time schedule. The schedule often includes unpaid duties.

Government chief executives and legislators who do not hold full-time positions usually keep working in the job they had before elected.

Some jobs require some out-of-town travel. Others involve long periods away from home when the legislature is in session. In rural areas, the drive to work may be very long.

How do you get ready to be a politician?

Candidates for office usually must be a certain age. They must live in their area, and be a U.S. citizen.

Some have business, teaching, or legal experience; but many others have done other kinds of work. Many also have been volunteers with all kinds of social, political, religious, and other groups.

Being a good speaker and manager is important. Candidates must inspire and motivate voters and their staff. They should be sincere and honest. They also must know how to compromise. In addition, they must have a lot of energy and be good fundraisers.

It is hard for politicians to "advance" in the usual sense. The voter is their boss. If politicians are good at their jobs, they may get elected to the next level of political office. For example, a council member may run for mayor or for a job in the State government. A State legislator may run for governor or for Congress. Not all elected people want to advance and many do not try to. Others do not get reelected or just leave the occupation. Most politicians serve for only short periods of time.

How much do politicians make?

The middle half of all legislators earned between $13,180 and $38,540 a year in 2002. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $12,130. The highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $69,380.

Earnings of public administrators range from little or nothing for a small town council member to $400,000 a year for the President of the United States.

Annual salaries of governors ranged from a low of $50,000 in America Samoa to a high of $179,000 in New York. In 2003, U.S. Senators and Representatives earned $154,700, the Senate and House Majority and Minority leaders earned $171,900, and the Vice President was paid $198,600.

How many jobs are there?

Legislators in Federal, State, and local governments held 67,000 jobs in 2002. The Federal Government had 535 Senators and Representatives in addition to the President and Vice President.

What about the future?

The amount of competition in elections varies from place to place. Often, a lot of people try to get elected to the same job in large towns, cities, and States. In small areas, there is much less competition for these kinds of jobs. An increase in the number of jobs for chief executives and legislators is most likely to occur in local governments. Some cities and towns may take on professional managers or move from volunteer to paid career executives.

Are there other jobs like this?

  • Corporate board members
  • Corporate chief executives
  • High ranking officers in the military
Where can you find more information?

More information about top executives (in government and the private sector) can be found in the Careers Database.

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics

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