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New Report: Black Americans Acutely Underrepresented Among Top Staff in the U.S. House of Representatives

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 6, 2022

CONTACT:
Chandra Hayslett, chandra@jointcenter.org
Valerie Jean-Charles, vjeancharles@fenton.com ​​

 

JOINT CENTER REPORT: BLACK AMERICANS ACUTELY UNDERREPRESENTED AMONG TOP STAFF IN THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Lack of racial diversity hinders House members’ understanding of their constituencies’ diverse perspectives

Washington D.C. — Today, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies released a report, “Racial Diversity Among Top Staff In the U.S. House Of Representatives,” which crystallized the startling lack of racial diversity among senior staff in the House of Representatives. The data shows that people of color account for 40 percent of the U.S. population, but only 18 percent of all top House staff. Black Americans are 12.4 percent of the U.S. population, but only 5.6 percent of House personal office top staff. This report was exclusively covered by The Hill.

The report analyzed diversity among chiefs of staff, legislative directors, and communications directors in the Washington, D.C. personal offices of the U.S. House members; chiefs of staff, policy directors, and communications directors in the top leadership offices of each political party; and staff directors assigned to full committees.

The lack of top staff diversity is a structural challenge for the entire institution rather than a problem attributable to a single member or political party. The lack of racial diversity impairs House members’ ability to understand their constituencies’ diverse perspectives. People of color are underrepresented in various occupations, but a lack of diversity among top House staff warrants special attention because the U.S. House of Representatives’ decisions affect all Americans.

“Right now, people of color are better represented among House members than among their top staffers. Not only should the leaders we elect to represent us reflect the diversity of our nation, but the senior staff who inform their decision-making must as well,” said Dr. LaShonda Brenson, author of this report and senior researcher at the Joint Center. “Last year, we noticed a trend of Black staff leaving Capitol Hill, often due to lack of promotion opportunities to leadership positions, low pay, and lack of a welcoming culture. Despite top House staff being more diverse than in the past, the data is still disheartening. Much work remains to be done.”

Key findings in this report include:

  • Nearly all groups of color are underrepresented among House personal office top staff.
    • Latina/os are 18.4 percent of the U.S. population, but only 5.8 percent of House personal office top staff.
    • Black Americans are 12.4 percent of the U.S. population, but only 5.6 percent of House personal office top staff.
    • Asian American/Pacific Islanders are 5.8 percent of the U.S. population, but only 3.5 percent of House personal office top staff.
    • Biracial Americans are 2.5 percent of the U.S. population, but 1.5 percent of House personal office top staff.
    • Native Americans are 0.7 percent of the U.S. population, but 0.2 percent of House personal office top staff.
    • Middle Eastern/North Africans are 0.6 percent of the U.S. population, and 1.4 percent of House personal office top staff.
  • Of the 308 personal offices of white members, only 23 (7.4 percent) are led by chiefs of staff of color.
  • In the personal offices of white Democratic members, 14.8 percent of top staff are people of color, even though these offices represent districts that are, on average, over 38.9 percent people of color.
  • In the personal offices of white Republican members, only 5.1 percent of top staff are people of color, even though these members represent districts that are, on average, 25.7 percent people of color.
  • No Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI), biracial, Middle Eastern/North African (MENA), or Native American serves in any of the 41 committee staff director positions or any of the 20 top staff positions in the top leadership offices of either party.
  • Congressional Black Caucus members are responsible for 80 percent (four of the five) of Black staff directors hired to full committees in the U.S. House.
  • Between 2018 and 2022, the percentage of people of color in House personal office top staff positions increased from 13.7 percent to 18 percent.

The Joint Center recommended the following next steps:

  • Members of Congress and their leadership must do more to ensure the diversity of the U.S. House workforce reflects the diversity of the American people. For example, since the Joint Center’s 2018 report, “Racial Diversity Among Top House Staff,” the proportion of diverse top staff in the U.S. House of Representatives has increased by over four percentage points. Congress has taken vital steps to improve transparency and staff diversity. The U.S. House has established an Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) to foster diversity and inclusion.
  • Senators should follow the lead of the U.S. House of Representatives by establishing a bipartisan ODI that develops a diversity plan that focuses on recruiting, hiring, training, promoting, and retaining a diverse Senate staff. Since 2017, Senate Democrats have released results from their annual survey on their staff’s racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation/gender identity diversity. To date, Senate Republican offices have not released staff demographic data. Absent immediate bipartisan cooperation to create such an office, Senate Republicans should match the practices of Democrats by creating their own diversity initiatives to help Republican offices advance racial diversity and disclose data to monitor progress.

A full copy of today’s report is available here.

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About the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, America’s Black think tank, provides compelling and actionable policy solutions to eradicate persistent and evolving barriers to the full freedom of Black people in America. We are the trusted forum for leading experts and scholars to participate in major public policy debates and promote ideas that advance Black communities. We use evidence-based research, analysis, convenings, and strategic communications to support Black communities and a network of allies.

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