Mid-level Senate staffers less racially diverse than US: Research

Only 21.4 percent of mid-level Senate staffers are people of color, despite people of color making up more than 41 percent of the total U.S. population, according to a new report.

The report, conducted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, found that African Americans account for 13.6 percent of the U.S. population but only 5.4 percent of Senate pathway staff, or positions held on the pathway to top staff positions such as chief of staff or legislative or communication director

Additionally, Latinos make up 19.1 percent of the U.S. population, but only 6.8 percent of Senate pathway staff and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders account for 6.6 percent of the U.S. population but only 5.4 percent of Senate pathway staff.

“The need for greater diversity among pathway staff is a challenge that the Senate, as an institution, must address,” the report states. “Congressional decisions affect all Americans, and the lack of racial diversity among personal office pathway staff impairs senators’ understanding of their constituencies’ diverse perspectives.”

The report found that Black staff have the most significant difference between top staff and pathway staff. In 2023, African Americans accounted for 2.1 percent of Senate top staff, but 5.4 percent of Senate pathway staff.

Its authors noted that pathway staff of color are more common in Democratic offices than Republican offices, though both fall short of representing the voter base.

According to the report, 14 percent of people of color identified as Republican voters in 2022, but only 9.7 percent of Republican pathway staff are people of color. And while people of color made up 36 percent of Democratic voters two years ago, only 30.4 percent of Democratic Senate pathway staff are people of color.

Black senators employ the highest amount of Black pathway staff, researchers found.

Though there are only four Black senators serving today – Democrats Cory Booker (N.J.), Raphael Warnock (Ga.) and Laphonza Butler (Calif.) and Republican Tim Scott (S.C.) – they employ 21.1 percent of all Senate Black pathway staff.

A clear age gap was also present in the report.

Senators under 60 years old had the highest percentage of pathway staff of color at 29.6 percent. Senators between the ages of 60 and 69 employed about 14.8 percent of pathway staff of color and senators older than 70 employed 19.5 percent of pathway staff of color.

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies began highlighting racial diversity among top senate staff in 2015. Though there have been steps to improve transparency and staff diversity, its report said, there are steps that can still be taken.

While Senate Democrats have led both chambers by releasing racial and ethnic data about the staff in Democratic senators’ personal and committee offices, the report calls on Senate Democrats to disclose data on diversity by position to help “reveal which senators’ staffs are diverse in critical positions that may serve as pipelines to top positions.”

Senate Republicans have yet to publicly release any data on the diversity of their staff, so the report’s authors “performed an online search for Senate staff photographs with links to current and past employment.”

“The authors obtained data from various sources, including LegiStorm, X (formally Twitter), LinkedIn, YouTube, Wikipedia, Roll Call, The Hill, National Journal, constituent photographs, wedding announcements, and press interviews.”

The center in Wednesday’s report called on Senate Republicans to immediately disclose diversity data and annually report it.

“Both Senate Republicans and Democrats should work together to develop a diversity plan that helps Senate offices in recruiting, hiring, training, promoting, and retaining a diverse Senate staff,” the report added.

The center also used the report to call for the House Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), which was disbanded in March, to be replaced in some manner.

“By shuttering the ODI, we are not just losing an office; we are losing ground in our collective pursuit of a truly representative democracy,” the report said. “The Joint Center calls on the replacement office — the Office of Talent Management under the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer — to build on the great work of the ODI and create a central repository of data to help guide efforts to make the House of Representatives workforce more diverse.”

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.