Hill Diversity

How Well Do Democratic Senators Who Represent Large Populations of Black Citizens Fare in Hiring Black Top Staff?

The overall number of staff of color in Democratic personal offices has increased by 3.4 percentage points from 2020, according to a recent survey released by the Senate Democratic Diversity Initiative. Among the Senate Democrats’ personal offices, the average percentage of Black staff increased from 13.4 percent in 2020 to 13.6 percent this year. (To date, Senate Republican offices have not released staff demographic data.)

Yet, even amid some progress in hiring Black staff from Senate Democrats, data on Black staff in the most senior positions in personal offices reveals how much work is still needed.

In this post, we study the hiring patterns of Black staff, especially in senior positions, in Democratic Senate personal offices that represent states with at least a 15 percent African American population. These 14 Democratic Senators not only represent a higher than average Black population but they heavily rely on Black voters to be elected (i.e., Senator Cory Booker (NJ), Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Senator Thomas Carper (DE), Senator Chris Coons (DE), Senator Tammy Duckworth (IL), Senator Dick Durbin (IL), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Senator Tim Kaine (VA), Senator Robert Menendez (NJ), Senator Jon Ossoff (GA), Senator Chuck Schumer (NY), Senator Chris Van Hollen (MD), Senator Mark Warner (VA), Senator Raphael Warnock (GA)).

To illustrate the significance of Black voters to Democratic Senators, African Americans account for 33 percent of Georgia’s population, but 54 percent of Georgia’s Democratic voters. African Americans account for 54 percent of Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock’s overall staff and 67 percent of his top staff (i.e., chiefs of staff, legislative director, and communications directors). By comparison, African Americans account for only 24 percent of Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff’s overall staff, and 33 percent of his top staff. The same trend exists with other Democrats–Black Americans account for about 13 of the U.S. population and 20 percent of Democratic voters nationally. However, Black Americans accounted for only 5.3 percent of Democratic U.S. Senate top staff in 2021. Of the 20 Democratic full committee staff directors, only one is Black.

The chart below compares the Black population in the Senators’ state mentioned above to their overall percentage of Black staff based on the Senate Democrats’ recent survey. We also use Joint Center data to show the extent to which these Senators hire Black staffers to top positions.

Senators With Greatest Gap Between Black Staff and Black State Population (2019 Census Estimates) (Full List)

Next, we rank these 14 Senators based on the difference between a Senator’s constituents who are Black from the percentage of Black staff in the Senator’s office. For example, a Senator with 0 percent Black staff who represents a state that is 20 percent Black would have a score of -20 (poor performing). A Senator with a staff that is 66 percent Black who represents a state that is 33 percent Black state would have a score of 33 (high performing). The chart is set to be sorted by these scores. Senator Raphael Warnock (GA) ranks the highest among his colleagues while his fellow Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff ranks last. In addition to Senator Ossoff (GA), five other lawmakers (i.e., Senators Cardin (MD), Carper (DE), Coons (DE), Gillibrand (NY), and Schumer (NY)) have negative scores.

All Staff—Democratic Senate Personal Offices Ranked by Difference Between Black Share of Staff & State Population


Finally, we rank these 14 Senators based on the difference between a Senator’s constituents who are Black from the percentage of Black top staff in the Senator’s office. The scores work the same way as the chart above. Senator Raphael Warnock (GA) ranks significantly higher than his colleagues with a score of 34. Only three other Senators have a positive score (i.e., Senators Booker (NJ), Durbin (IL), and Warner (VA)). Senator Ossoff has a score of zero indicating that his percentage of Black top staff is equal to the percent of the Black population. The other nine Senators have negative scores, with Maryland Democratic Senators Cardin and Van Hollen (who has a Black Deputy chief of staff who is African American) tie for the bottom position.

Top Staff—Democratic Senate Personal Offices Ranked by Difference Between Black Share of Top Staff & State Population

It is critical that Senators, especially those representing states with a significant Black population, hire Black top staff. Diversifying top staff in the U.S. Congress is especially important now, as the lack of Black top staff impairs the ability of Senators to understand the diverse perspectives of their districts and states and represent all Americans effectively.