Front page graphic from the report, “Racial Diversity among Top Senate Staff”. (US Capitol Building Photo|Dreamstime.com -Blakeley)

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a District Black political think tank, recently released a study showing the low number of people of color employed in top staff positions in the U.S. Senate.

The report, Racial Diversity among Top Senate Staff, was released on Dec. 8 and written by James Jones, a sociology doctoral candidate at Columbia University. Jones said his academic work focuses on the lack of racial diversity on Capitol Hill.

“The Joint Center has a long history of providing research on people of color,” Jones said. “I am working on a dissertation on racial inequality in congressional workplaces and have been working on this topic for 5-6 years. For this report, however, I talked to 100 staffers who work for the Senate and there are so few people of color working in the upper ranks of the Senate.”

He focused on the most influential positions in a Senate office: chief of staff, legislative director, communications director, and staff directors assigned to committees. The employment data Jones used is based on who is employed by senators on April 2015.

The key findings of the report are:

* Although people of color make up over 36 percent of the U.S. population and over 28 percent of the citizen voting-age population, they represent only 7.1 percent of top Senate staffers. Blacks make up 13 percent of the population but comprise only 0.9 percent of top Senate staffers.

* Senate offices representing states with large Latino and Black populations hire few senior staffers of color. Blacks represent 17 percent to almost 38 percent of the population in 10 states (Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia) yet hold only 1.7 percent of the total staff positions in these states’ Senate offices.

* The top Democratic Senate staff members are much less diverse than the Democratic voting base. While 22 percent of Democrats are Black, as a group they are only 0.7 percent of top Democratic U.S. Senate staff. The report shows that there are no Black chiefs of staff, legislative directors or communications directors in the Capitol Hill or state offices of any Democratic senator.”Jones said it’s important that Americans understand why this racial disparity on Senate staffs makes a difference in their lives. “Many people outside of D.C. don’t know that lack of diversity is a problem and those in D.C. who do know it is a problem say there is no data to verify it,” he said. “This report has empirical data and documents the problem.”

Jones said that most Americans don’t understand how Congress works. “It is the staffers who assist members of Congress by writing the legislation that the member proposes and staffers even suggest legislation,” he said. “It is the staffers who put the hearings together and when constituents visit their national lawmakers, it is often the staff that they meet with. The staffers on Capitol Hill are often known as the “invisible force.”

Paul Brathwaite is a former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus. Brathwaite said the findings of Jones’s report are not new and agrees that most Americans are naïve about the inner workings of Congress. “It is important to have people of color in those key staff positions because they influence policy,” Brathwaite said. “Whether its education, health care, tax policy, energy, telecommunications, transportation, decisions on which group gets what is determined by staffers. If you had more people of color in those staff positions, there would be better outcomes for people of color.”

“Instead of a report like this being done every once in a while, I would do this every year,” Brathwaite said. “I would hold the Senate offices accountable for their staff diversity and even assign grades to those offices.”