Congress has more diversity than ever, but Hill staffers remain majority white

Only two chiefs of staff in the entire U.S. Senate are Black, and only four are Latino. There are only two Black communications directors.

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While the U.S. Congress is becoming increasingly diverse, the staff members who support the country’s legislators remain mostly white.

Nearly all American lawmakers have top-level staff members like communications directors and chiefs of staff. However, only two chiefs of staff are Black in the Senate, and only four are Latino. There are only two Black communications directors.

In this pre-pandemic photo, congressional staffers sample entries in an annual hot-dish competition in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Michael J. Brewer, who holds the latter job for newly-elected Georgia senator, Rev. Raphael Warnock — and is the only Black man with the position — sees some progress.

“We’ve come up,” Brewer told Politico, “But not nearly enough.”

The Politico report notes that the racial makeup of these Congressional staffers — who are responsible for writing policy, setting schedules for hearings, preparing rollouts of legislation and managing staff rates — often doesn’t align with the populations of their districts. Diversity advocates believe the lack of representation in these roles could “undermine lawmakers’ attempts to solve the issues unique to those communities.”

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“Communities of color aren’t just pawns to mobilize on Election Day,” said LaShonda Brenson, a senior fellow at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. “They have real issues that need to be realized in policy.”

Diversity is slowly increasing among Senate staffers, now 11 percent people of color, up from three percent, the figure in 2016, according to a Joint Center study last year authored by Brenson. The House staffs fares a bit better: 19 percent are currently people of color, increased from 2018’s 14 percent.

While the lack of diversity is reflected in both parties, Democrats have more diverse staffs than Republicans.

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Brenson said it’s important that members of Congress hire “staff of color who can really speak to different constituencies that they may have, just so that their interests are represented.”

According to the report, one reason for congressional staffs’ lack of diversity is that securing a job in Washington, for a successful candidate, often begins on the campaign level, where one must work long hours for low pay. It also means having strong relationships.

“There’s no way to truly break into that system because you know no one with power or influence,” said Chuck Rocha, a Democratic strategist and former senior adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders. “That’s still how most of these jobs on the Hill are granted — through somebody knowing somebody.”

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