Fewer Top Aides Are Minorities, Lobbyists

Profiled: Staff demographics have changed.
National Journal
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George E. Condon Jr.
June 15, 2011, 5:59 p.m.

Cap­it­ol Hill is a little whiter, with more men and few­er wo­men, law­yers, and vet­er­ans since Re­pub­lic­ans took over the House in Janu­ary. That is the por­trait painted by an ex­haust­ive ex­am­in­a­tion of 319 con­gres­sion­al staffers who hold the key posts in the le­gis­lat­ive lead­er­ship of­fices and the com­mit­tees. The num­bers come from a demo­graph­ic sur­vey com­piled by Na­tion­al Journ­al and Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily for NJ‘s quad­ren­ni­al “Hill People” pro­ject.

This year’s Hill People — the sev­enth edi­tion since it was first un­der­taken in 1987 — is con­tained in a spe­cial is­sue of Na­tion­al Journ­al to be pub­lished Monday. As it did in 2003 and 2007, the 2011 edi­tion is ac­com­pan­ied by a demo­graph­ic sur­vey of all the staffers who par­ti­cip­ated.

This is the only study that takes an in-depth look at the staffers, and provides unique in­sight in­to those who wield enorm­ous in­flu­ence in the shap­ing of the na­tion’s laws but who most of­ten prefer to stay be­hind the scenes and an­onym­ous.

The aides in­ter­viewed in­cluded ma­jor­ity and minor­ity staff dir­ect­ors and a se­lec­ted num­ber of chief coun­sels, deputy staff dir­ect­ors, and com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­ors. Only a hand­ful of staffers balked at provid­ing some per­son­al in­form­a­tion. Al­most all gran­ted per­son­al in­ter­views and shared in­form­a­tion about everything from their mar­it­al status to where they live, to their hob­bies.

(RE­LATED: Break­ing Down the Ages of Top Hill Aides)

In many ways, today’s Cap­it­ol Hill is fun­da­ment­ally un­changed since NJ‘s first com­pre­hens­ive demo­graph­ic sur­vey of staffers in 2003. There are only slightly more wo­men and Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans today than there were eight years ago, be­fore the Sen­ate went from Re­pub­lic­an to Demo­crat and the House went from Re­pub­lic­an to Demo­crat and back to Re­pub­lic­an.

In 2003, 72 per­cent of these top staffers were male. That fell to 66 per­cent in 2007 but jumped back up this year to 68 per­cent, with only 32 per­cent of the seni­or com­mit­tee slots filled by wo­men. The dis­par­ity between the two parties is no­tice­able — Demo­crat­ic staffers are 62 per­cent male while Re­pub­lic­an staffers are 73 per­cent male.

The ra­cial break­down still shows an over­whelm­ingly white staff with some slip­page in the last four years in reach­ing more di­versity. In 2003, the top staffers were 94 per­cent white. That fell to 91 per­cent in 2003 but jumped back up to 93 per­cent this year. Cor­res­pond­ingly, the per­cent­age of Afric­an-Amer­ic­an staffers went from 2 per­cent in 2003, up to 5 per­cent in 2007 and then down to 3 per­cent today, after the change in party con­trol.

(RE­LATED: Who Are Hill People? Where Do They Come From?)

Sur­pris­ingly, at the same time the coun­try is be­com­ing more Latino, the num­ber of top His­pan­ic staffers at the key com­mit­tees has dropped. In both 2003 and 2007, 2 per­cent of the staffers were Latino. Today, that has fallen to 1 per­cent. In raw num­bers, that trans­lates to only three Latino staffers sur­veyed — two work­ing for Re­pub­lic­ans and only one for Demo­crats.

The num­ber of Asi­an staffers stayed steady over the three sur­veys at 3 per­cent.

Show­ing that Hill staffers re­flect the lar­ger cul­ture, a long­time trend con­tin­ued with few­er mil­it­ary vet­er­ans work­ing for the com­mit­tees that write the laws. Today, only 5 per­cent of the top staffers are vet­er­ans. Four years ago, 5 per­cent of Demo­crat­ic staffers and 15 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­an staffers were vet­er­ans. Demo­crat­ic vet­er­ans dropped only 1 point, to 4 per­cent. But Re­pub­lic­an vet­er­ans were cut in half, drop­ping from 15 per­cent to 7 per­cent.

Drop­ping less sharply was the num­ber of law­yers. Eight years ago, 43 per­cent of the staffers were law­yers; four years ago, that was down to 36 per­cent; today, it is down again to 35 per­cent.

Also drop­ping was the num­ber of staffers edu­cated in the Ivy League, with a no­tice­able jump in the num­ber of staffers who got their un­der­gradu­ate de­grees from pub­lic schools — up to 49 per­cent from the 41 per­cent in both 2007 and 2003. Ivy League gradu­ates — 12 per­cent in 2003 and 14 per­cent in 2007 — made up only 10 per­cent of the top staffers.

The oth­er 41 per­cent of staffers gradu­ated from oth­er private col­leges.
The most pop­u­lar school for staffers was Geor­getown Uni­versity, with 10 un­der­gradu­ates and 15 gradu­ates of Geor­getown Law. The next most-cited un­der­gradu­ate school was Yale, with sev­en gradu­ates. Among law schools, those trail­ing Geor­getown were George Wash­ing­ton Uni­versity and the Uni­versity of Vir­gin­ia, with six each.

Over­all, the num­ber of staffers with gradu­ate de­grees — in­clud­ing law de­grees — dropped in the last four years to 59 per­cent from 64 per­cent.

An­oth­er fig­ure drop­ping was the num­ber of staffers with pri­or ex­per­i­ence lob­by­ing. Only 13 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans and 11 per­cent of Demo­crats had been lob­by­ists, down sev­er­al points from 2007.

Some things, of course, stay the same re­gard­less of which party con­trols the com­mit­tees. About a third of the staffers are single, with more Demo­crat­ic staffers single than Re­pub­lic­an staffers.

The oth­er thing that doesn’t seem to waver is where staffers choose to live once they go to work on Cap­it­ol Hill. Demo­crats tend to live in the Dis­trict, while Re­pub­lic­ans prefer Vir­gin­ia. Mary­land gets little love from either party.

For Demo­crats, 50 per­cent live in D.C., 32 per­cent in Vir­gin­ia and 18 per­cent in Mary­land. For Re­pub­lic­ans, 62 per­cent are in Vir­gin­ia, 30 per­cent in D.C. and only 8 per­cent in Mary­land.


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