From Black Congressional Staff to America
Today, we are sending a message to America.
We come to you as Black congressional staffers on Capitol Hill. We come as proud public servants from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, fueled by stories of sacrifice, triumph, and resilience. For many of us, when we answered the call to serve, we did so inspired by the possibility that here—in the United States Congress—we could fundamentally improve the quality of life for our communities. However, in doing so, we have been presented with our fair share of obstacles. In writing to you, we seek to raise awareness of the lack of diversity and other challenges we often face while working in the most influential governmental institution in the world.
In 2021, we proudly witnessed Congress reach a critical milestone when it swore in the most racially and ethnically diverse congressional class in its history. However, that celebration was short-lived when we realized that one of the most vital components of the legislative branch—congressional staff—once again did not reflect the diversity of America. Understanding this has inspired us to share our stories as Black and Brown staffers who work alongside lawmakers every day for the greater good of our communities and the country.
Most congressional offices consist of three senior staffers: Chief of Staff, Legislative Director, and Communications Director. These staffers are responsible for hiring staff and advising lawmakers on critical issues such as education, healthcare, congressional spending, and more. Although these staffers are rarely seen and have no official governing authority, their work directly impacts the lives of more than 330 million Americans. The problem is that these staffers are overwhelmingly White. A recent report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies concluded that people of color make up 40 percent of the U.S. population but comprise 11 percent of senior Senate staff positions. Similarly, Black Americans constitute roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population but occupy only 3 percent of senior Senate staff.
To date, out of 100 chiefs of staff in the Senate, only two are Black. Additionally, of the 435 lawmakers in the House of Representatives, less than 30 have Black chiefs of staff. Notably, most of these individuals are employed by Black lawmakers. These statistics are discouraging because they send the underlying message that the path forward for Black staffers to be hired or promoted to senior-level positions within their respective offices is limited. As a result, Black staffers will continue to earn lower wages and experience a lack of career upward mobility compared to their White counterparts. It is not enough to simply hire Black staff. Congress must also foster clear pathways for recruitment and career advancement.
The Changes We Would Like to See Include:
A Stronger College-to-Congress Pipeline. Congressional offices should foster consistent and intentional relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Black Student Unions (BSUs), and other organizations—including Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLOs) and Diversity Centers on college campuses across America.
More Career Opportunities and Investments. Provide Black staffers with options to develop and display their talents and apply their expertise so that they can be promoted to senior-level positions by their own merit.
Livable Wages for All Congressional Staffers. We implore you to consider the costs and expenses that residents (not just staffers) must pay to live in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. Given the high cost of living and heavy workload, congressional staffers can benefit from earning a living wage.
America Represented Integrally. Voting and census collections matter. Members of Congress making purposeful and fair hiring decisions that reflect the constituents they serve is key to assuring that Congress and our country are exercising both equality and equity.
Finally, we would like to conclude by saying: working on Capitol Hill for many of us has been a life-changing experience that we do not take for granted. However, we believe that if the United States Congress wants to hold steadfast to its representative form of government, then congressional staffers hired to construct and inform legislation should be reflective of the United States' population. This letter is our message to America, and we hope that this will be the start of a long-overdue conversation, but more importantly, that the people who have been entrusted with the means to improve our plight will act. Congress can be a powerful vehicle for change when we are all at the table and well-positioned and equipped to make those changes.
The Congressional Black Associates and The Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus