Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi swears in new members of Congress during the first session of the 117th Congress on Jan. 3, 2021. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi swears in new members of Congress during the first session of the 117th Congress on Jan. 3, 2021. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

About a quarter of voting members (23%) of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are racial or ethnic minorities, making the 117th Congress the most racially and ethnically diverse in history. There has been a long-running trend toward higher numbers of non-White lawmakers on Capitol Hill: This is the sixth Congress to break the record set by the one before it.

Growing racial and ethnic diversity in Congress

Overall, 124 lawmakers today identify as Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander or Native American, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Congressional Research Service. This represents a 97% increase over the 107th Congress of 2001-03, which had 63 minority members.

Among today’s senators and representatives, the overwhelming majority of racial and ethnic minority members are Democrats (83%), while 17% are Republicans. This represents a shift from the last Congress, when just 10% of non-White lawmakers were Republicans. Our analysis reflects the 532 voting members of Congress seated as of Jan. 26, 2021.

This analysis builds on earlier Pew Research Center work to analyze the racial and ethnic makeup of the U.S. Congress. To determine the number of racial and ethnic minority lawmakers in the 117th Congress, we used data from the Congressional Research Service. U.S. population data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau. Historical data was pulled from CQ Roll Call, CRS and the Brookings Institution. All racial groups refer to single-race non-Hispanics. Hispanics are of any race. Native Hawaiian Rep. Kai Kahele (D-Hawaii) is counted with the Native American lawmakers.

Our analysis reflects the 532 voting members of Congress seated as of Jan. 26, 2021. In the House, one New York race has not been called yet, and one Louisiana seat is empty because the congressman-elect died before he could be sworn in. We did not include former Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond, who resigned in January to join the Biden administration. The current number of voting House members is 432. Biden administration nominees who were not yet confirmed at the time of writing are included in our count. Independent members of Congress are counted with the party they caucus with.

Although recent Congresses have continued to set new highs for racial and ethnic diversity, they have still been disproportionately White when compared with the overall U.S. population. Non-Hispanic White Americans account for 77% of voting members in the new Congress, considerably larger than their 60% share of the U.S. population overall. This gap hasn’t narrowed with time: In 1981, 94% of members of Congress were White, compared with 80% of the U.S. population.

White Americans make up larger share of Congress than of U.S. population

In the House of Representatives, however, representation of some racial and ethnic groups is now on par with their share of the total population. For example, 13% of House members are Black, about equal to the share of Black Americans. And Native Americans now make up about 1% of both the House and the U.S. population.

Other racial and ethnic groups in the House are somewhat less represented relative to their share of the population. The share of Hispanics in the U.S. population (19%) is about twice as high as it is in the House (9%). Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders together account for 6% of the national population and 3% of House members.

This analysis includes four representatives who are counted under more than one racial or ethnic identity: Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va., is counted as Black and Asian. Reps. Antonio Delgado and Ritchie Torres, both New York Democrats, are listed as Black and Hispanic. Rep. Marilyn Strickland, D-Wash., is both the first Black lawmaker to represent the state and one of the first Korean American women to be elected to Congress. Native Hawaiian Rep. Kai Kahele (D-Hawaii) is counted with the Native American lawmakers. Portuguese American members are not included in the Hispanic count.

In the House, Republicans account for a larger share of newly elected minority representatives than in the past. Of the 16 freshmen representatives who are non-White, nine are Republicans, compared with just one of the 22 new representatives in the 116th Congress. This freshman cohort includes the only two Black Republicans in the chamber: Burgess Owens of Utah and Byron Donalds of Florida.

Eleven senators are a racial or ethnic minority, up from nine in the 116th Congress. Six senators are Hispanic, two are Asian and three are Black. Freshman Raphael Warnock is the first Black senator to represent Georgia, and another freshman, Alex Padilla, is the first Hispanic senator to represent California. Padilla replaced Vice President and former Sen. Kamala Harris, who was one of four women of color (and the only Black woman) serving in the Senate.

Just three of the 11 non-White senators are Republicans: Tim Scott of South Carolina is Black, and Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas are both Hispanic.

Katherine Schaeffer  is a research analyst at Pew Research Center.