Only 14 percent of state legislators are minorities, according to a report released on Monday. That number is far below the racial and ethnic makeup of the U.S., with minorities making up 40 percent of the population.
The New American Leaders Project surveyed state lawmakers in 2015 and found that black politicians held about 9 percent of the seats, Hispanics about 4 percent, Asian-Americans about 2 percent and Native Americans less than 1 percent.
Sayu Bhojwani, the president and founder of the New American Leaders Project, said the major political parties could do more to help usher more minority candidates to state-level offices. She also called for more support for minority candidates after they decide to seek office and for foundations to invest in preparing future lawmakers.
"Part of the reason for the representation gap is … the existing and traditional parties are not reaching out and encouraging Asians and Latinos and Latinas to run," she said.
Having more minority officeholders at the state level would mean minority communities would have someone who not only understands their issues but also likely has experienced what they are going through, Bhojwani said. "If we could reduce the barriers, we could have a much more representative government," she added.
The survey also found a gender gap in state legislatures, with women holding 24 percent of the lawmaking jobs and men holding 76 percent.
Republicans held a decisive advantage, with 56 percent of state-level legislative positions; Democrats have 43 percent, and third-party candidates or independents hold the remainder.
The Associated Press