Policy center calls for new lawmakers to make diverse hires

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which has conducted multiple studies on the diversity of Capitol Hill staffers, is encouraging incoming members of Congress to hire people of color for senior and mid-level staff positions.

While Congress has become more diverse in recent years — the upcoming session will be its most diverse yet — the center has found that people of color often struggle to reach senior staff positions. 

Findings published in August from the center show that 11 percent of top Senate staffers were people of color, an increase of 4 percentage points from 2015. However, the number is still significantly disproportionate, as people of color make up 40 percent of the U.S.’s population.

As part of its campaign to drive staff diversity on the Hill, the center and dozens of prominent civil rights organizations penned letters to incoming members of both chambers.

“We encourage you to prioritize racial diversity in your hiring, particularly among your personal office top staff (e.g., chief of staff, legislative director, and communications director) and mid-level staff (e.g., legislative assistant, counsel, policy advisor, press secretary, and administrative director),” the Nov. 20 letters read.

Also in the letters, the center recommended things that new lawmakers could do, such as come up with a diversity plan and work with the Hill staff associations that serve staffers of color.

“[C]onsider the events of 2020,” LaShonda Brenson, who heads the studies, wrote in an op-ed that appeared in The Hill on Nov. 19. “From police killings of Black Americans to a COVID-19 pandemic that has disproportionately claimed the jobs and lives of Black and Brown people, the need for policymakers and staff who understand structural inequality, racism and anti-Blackness is as clear as it has ever been.”

The center’s efforts come after the Tri-Caucus Staff Associations — organizations that offer professional support for Black, Hispanic and Asian American staffers — wrote a similar letter to House and Senate leadership.

Congress has made an effort to increase staff diversity. Senate Democrats began releasing reports on the racial makeup of their staffs in 2017, and in 2019, the House created its own Office of Inclusion and Diversity to help spur more diverse hires.

That said, the lack of staff diversity is a problem on both sides of the aisle.

According to Brenson’s August report, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia — the states with the highest percentage of Black residents that are represented by two Democratic senators — have no Black people in top staff positions.

The same can be said for Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, the states that have the highest number of Black residents with two Republican senators. 

This year, Senate Democrats reported seven senators had staffs that were more than 50 percent nonwhite. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) had the most diverse staff, with 65 percent of his staff identifying as nonwhite, though no senator had a senior staff that consisted entirely of people of color.

Tags 2021 Congress congressional staff diversity congressional staffers Cory Booker Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies new members

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