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Boomers dominate, minorities double but still scarce in new Iowa Legislature
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Boomers dominate, minorities double but still scarce in new Iowa Legislature

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The Iowa State Capitol building Friday, July 31, 2020, in Des Moines.

DES MOINES — So you say you’re an Iowa state lawmaker.

OK, boomer.

Baby boomers make up more than half of the Legislature and far outnumber any other generation, according to demographic information and generational breakdowns as defined by the Pew Research Center.

While boomers dominate the makeup at the Statehouse, minorities remain under-represented in the Iowa Capitol, even after their numbers doubled this year.

The 2021 session of the Iowa Legislature begins Monday.

The November election brought new blood to the Legislature — 21 new members — 13 in the House and eight in the Senate — giving the Statehouse a new look.

The following figures are based on demographic information for all 149 members of Iowa’s 89th General Assembly, which will serve for the next two years.

The 150th and final member will be elected later this month to fill a seat in the Senate vacated by former Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who in November was elected to Congress.

Age

Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, continue to outnumber any other generation among lawmakers, making up more than half of all legislators, including 53% in the House and 47% in the Senate.

Generation X is the closest to challenging the boomers’ majority: Those born between 1965 and 1980 make up 29% of the House and 43% of the Senate.

Bookending the generational spectrum, Iowa has three members of the Silent Generation (born between 1928 and 1945) and two members of the youngest generation, Gen Z (born after 1996).

The oldest state lawmaker is 80-year-old Sen. Julian Garrett, a Republican from Indianola.

The youngest is 22-year-old Rep. Carter Nordman, a Republican from Adel.

The average age of Iowa’s state lawmakers is just shy of 55, and more than a quarter are grandparents.

Diversity

The Legislature will be twice as racially and ethnically diverse as it was during the previous two years, although it did not take much to raise that bar. The number of minority lawmakers doubled from just four to eight in the new Legislature, all in the House.

The Senate remains 100% white.

That leaves Iowa minorities under-represented in their state capitol: just 5% of lawmakers are non-white, while three times that — roughly 15% — of Iowa’s population is non-white, according to U.S. Census data.

In the House there are six Black members and one Asian-American member, plus the Legislature’s first Latino member, Mark Cisneros, a Republican from Muscatine.

Of those minority members, five are Democrats and three are Republicans.

All eight minority members are in leadership positions on committees.

While Iowa has seen a boom of female candidates elected to statewide and federal offices over the past few election cycles, the progress toward gender balance in the Legislature has been much slower.

Since 2014, Iowa has elected its first female U.S. senator, U.S. representative, and governor. And after the 2020 elections, Iowa’s congressional delegation is majority female, with four women and two men.

But women make up just 29% of the Legislature, including 31% of the House and 24% of the Senate.

While Republicans were the first to elect an Iowa woman as U.S. senator and governor, Democrats have fared far better in progressing toward gender balance at the Statehouse.

Women make up 47% of Democratic lawmakers and just 17% of Republicans.

For the second consecutive two-year cycle, House Democrats start with a majority female caucus, with 21 women and 20 men.

Professions

In perhaps the most on-brand and least-surprising count, 1 in 5 state lawmakers is a farmer, the most common profession at the Capitol.

There are 13 farmers in the Senate, and 12 of them are Republicans. Nearly 39% of all Senate Republicans are farmers.

Close behind are business people and other professionals, who make up 17% of state lawmakers. Another 11% are business owners.

The next-most populous groups include 20 retired state lawmakers, 15 who work in education, and 10 attorneys.

Education

A vast majority — more than 85% — of state lawmakers have at least some education from a four-year college, and another 7% have a community college degree or trade school certificate.

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