By James Wright, Special to the AFROjwright@afro.com

Senate Democrats have improved their hiring of people of color but only slightly.

The survey, “Diversity Among U.S. Senate Democratic Staff on June 30, 2018,” commissioned by Senate Democrats, showed only a slight increase in the number of non-White Democratic staffers across 49 Senate personal offices and 19 committees. Don Bell, director of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Black Talent Initiative, praised the upper chamber’s Democrats for their efforts.

Sixty-six percent of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris’s staffers are people of color. (Courtesy Photo)

“I applaud Schumer and the Senate Democratic Caucus for releasing an update of their demographic data,” Bell said. “The data makes it clear that after more than a year of actions taken to address diversity and inclusion, the Senate needs additional help. The lack of diversity and inclusion is an institutional crisis, which severely diminishes the Senate’s ability to effectively represent the views and needs of all Americans.”

In the Senate’s Democratic personal offices, 29 reported an increase in the number of staff who identify as non-White, 16 reported a decrease and four remained unchanged. The survey showed that in more than half of these offices, the change was not substantial, meaning less than five percent.

In the 19 Senate committees, eight committees increased the number of staffers of color, seven saw a decrease and four remained unchanged and there was no substantial change in that category either.

The survey pointed out that many staffers of color for Democratic senators were mainly in junior level positions and not in the power staff positions such as chief of staff, legislative director and communication director or even influential mid-level positions like deputy chief of staff, deputy legislative director, legislative assistant, counsel and press secretary.

For example, the survey pointed out that while 46 percent of Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.) staff consisted of people of color, none were in top or mid-level positions.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has a staff that is 66 percent people of color and her office has the most diversity among mid and senior level staff.

The only Democratic senator with an African-American chief of staff is Doug Jones of Alabama. Harris and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have Black legislative directors. No Democratic senator has a communications director who is a person of color and no committee directors are Black or Latino.

Spencer Overton, president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, said it is critical that people of color get mid-level positions in the Senate. “The mid-level positions are often feeder positions to the leadership positions,” Overton said. “Thus, a failure to hire, retain, and promote diverse mid-level staff perpetuates a lack of diversity among top staff in the future.”

Former Congressional Black Caucus executive director Paul Brathwaite told the AFRO that while the numbers aren’t impressive “at least they are moving in the right direction.”

“The numbers could be going in the other direction,” Brathwaite said. “At least progress is being made.”

Key job-hunting skills such as good interview techniques and creating a solid resume should be used to get people in the pipeline for those jobs, he said. “Both parties need to improve their numbers,” Brathwaite said, “but the Democrats are willing to do that.”