U.S. Senate is Overwhelmingly Run by White People

Sunday, December 13, 2015
(graphic: Steve Straehley, AllGov)

The U.S. Senate has never been a snapshot of America; its membership is top-heavy with white men. Now, a new study shows that it’s not just the senators who are predominately of that demographic; their top staffers are as well.


The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies took a look at the Senate’s top staffers. The resulting study (pdf) showed that that group is overwhelmingly white. Only 7% of Senate senior staff aides are people of color, compared to about a third of Americans overall.


That ratio shouldn’t be surprising, considering the makeup of the Senate itself. There are only two African-American and three Hispanic senators there, Russell Berman reported at Government Executive.


Even staffs of senators representing states with large minority populations have very small numbers of staff members of color. Among the senators from states in which Latinos comprise 15% to 45% of the population, only 8.5% of the staffers are people of color, according to the report. And of the 10 southern and border states in which African-Americans comprise 17% to 38% of the population, their senators have exactly one African-American top staffer.


Even Democratic senators appear reluctant to hire staffers of color. Only 2% of their top staffers are Latino and only 0.7% are black. “There is no African-American chief of staff, legislative director, or communications director in the Washington, D.C. personal office of any Democratic senator,” according to the report.


The report made several recommendations, the most interesting of which was that the Senate follow the National Football League’s Rooney Rule. That rule, which takes its name from Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, requires that NFL teams interview minority candidates for head coaching and top football operations jobs. That would give candidates of color at least a shot at top jobs.


“While a Rooney rule alone is insufficient because many Senate offices will continue to hire within their personal staffs, the Rooney rule gives candidates of color experience interviewing and focusing on qualities to be a key Senate staffer,” the study’s author, James Jones, wrote. “Use of the Rooney rule may also increase the number of mid-level staffers of color, and thus the pool of candidates for top staff positions.”

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

The U.S. Senate Is Still One of the World's Whitest Workplaces (by Russell Berman, Government Executive)

Racial Diversity Among Top Senate Staff (Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies) (pdf)

Two Black Senators for First Time in History (but neither was Elected) (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

U.S. Senate Gets Its First Black Senator from the South since 1881 (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

More Than Half of U.S. States Have Never Elected an African-American to Congress (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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