Regardless of which party is in power at any given time, people of color continue to be woefully underrepresented in not just elected office but also within support roles working for those lawmakers. And now, hundreds of these staffers are speaking out about what they call an “appalling” lack of diversity on Capitol Hill.
The Washingtonian’s Maya Pottiger reported that the Congressional Black Associates and Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus have “penned an open letter calling for change on Capitol Hill. The letter — entitled ‘From Black Congressional Staff to America’ — highlighted how, even among the most racially and ethnically diverse congressional class, the current congressional staff does not represent the country.”
According to Pottiger, the letter is based on 2020 research from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and cites a number of stats within that report as evidence of just how underrepresented people of color are within D.C. government offices. Among the statistics cited in the letter:
- People of color make up just 11% of senior Senate staff positions, despite the fact that they account for more than 40% of the U.S. population
- Senior Senate staff is comprised of just 3% Black workers, while Blacks make up approximately 13% of the U.S. population
- Only two Senate chiefs of staff, out of 100 possible positions, are Black
- In the House, where there are 435 chief-of-staff roles available, fewer than 30 are filled by Blacks
The D.C. area, in particular, is extremely lacking in diversity, even though people of color are the majority demographic.
“The three states with the highest share of Black residents that are represented by two Democratic U.S. Senators (Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia) have no Black personal office top staff,” the letter states. “On average, African Americans account for 24.7% of the residents and 39.3% of the 2016 Democratic Party turnout in [these states], but none (0%) of the 17 top staff positions in the Senate personal offices.”
As Pottiger explains, “on the whole, Capitol Hill can be a notoriously unfriendly, unaccommodating, unfair place to work for people who aren’t straight white men — some of that owing to the fact that there’s no Human Resources department. Each lawmaker’s office runs independently, as an independent employer.”
“For many of us, when we answered the call to serve, we did so, inspired by the possibility that here — in the United States Congress — we could fundamentally improve the quality of life for our communities,” the letter said. “However, in doing so, we have been presented with our fair share of obstacles. In writing to you, we seek to raise awareness of the lack of diversity and other challenges we often face while working in the most influential governmental institution in the world.”
In the letter’s conclusion, Pottiger said the 300-plus members of the Congressional Black Associates and Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus outlined four major changes they would like to see taking place on Capitol Hill going forward.
- “A stronger college-to-Congress pipeline through partnerships with HBCUs”
- “More opportunities to show talents and expertise that could lead to promotions”
- “Livable wages”
- “Representation in hiring decisions to reflect constituents”
“It is not enough to simply hire Black staff,” the letter concludes. “Congress must also foster clear pathways for recruitment and career advancement.”