Academic journal article Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy

Unrepresented: A Blueprint for Solving the Diversity Crisis on Capitol Hill

Academic journal article Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy

Unrepresented: A Blueprint for Solving the Diversity Crisis on Capitol Hill

Article excerpt



Congressional staffers advise our elected officials on issues affecting all Americans. From negotiating with constituencies to drafting legislative language, staff members play a vital role in the operations, oversight, appropriations, and policy decisions of the legislative branch. Because the duties of the legislative branch are so important to our nation, it is crucial that a properly functioning democracy have all of its communities represented so that each has a voice in the process. Unfortunately, the Latino community is not currently represented in a meaningful way among congressional staff. Latinos are almost completely left out of key staff positions and are drastically underrepresented at all staff levels.

This is a crisis that can and should be addressed. Staff turnover on Capitol Hill tends to be high, and opportunities exist to solve the diversity crisis relatively quickly if leaders recognize this problem and take action. We find it reasonable to set a goal that, by 2020, Latino Capitol Hill staff representation reaches 75 percent of the Latino proportion of the country as a whole. According to an estimate from the U.S Census Bureau, Latinos were projected to make up 15.5 percent of the population in 2010 (U.S. Census Bureau 2006); therefore, our target by 2020 would be to have at least 11.5 percent of congressional staff be of Latino descent. However, it should be noted that this is a moving target as Latinos are expected to make up an increasingly larger percentage of our population in the future. Therefore, these target numbers will likely increase by 2020 when it is projected that Latinos will comprise 17.8 percent of the U.S. population (U.S. Census Bureau 2006).

Our 2020 goal also focuses on senior-level positions. It is important that Latinos are not limited to junior, support, Hispanic outreach, or Spanish-language positions. Therefore, our goal is also to achieve the same 75 percent benchmark (as defined above) in executive-level positions, which are senior positions with a large influence on policy and budget decisions. Many senior-level staffers begin their careers in entry- and junior-level positions. Thus, more Latinos in entry- and junior-level positions today, if offered opportunities to prove themselves and advance, could result in more Latinos in senior-level positions in the future.

Historically, Latinos have been better represented among congressional members' in-district staff. While district staff plays an important role in helping constituents and navigating local politics, policy decisions are usually the domain of Washington, D.C., staff. Therefore, faced with limited time and resources, this article solely focuses on Washington, D.C., staff. (Note: the terms Latino and Hispanic are used interchangeably throughout this article.)


There is a lack of comprehensive data to assess diversity on the Hill. While Congress requires this data from federal agencies and government contractors, congressional offices are not required to collect or submit such information. However, there is still a wide variety of data available to provide an understanding of the current diversity crisis. For example, in 2007 the National Journal conducted a demographic analysis of key aides defined as "Capitol Hill staffers" of U.S. House of Representative and U.S. Senate leaders, congressional committees, key caucuses, and other coalitions (National Journal 2007). Table 1 tracks the Latino representation of these key staff members listed in 2003 and 2007. This data clearly shows Latinos are not at the table when key decisions are being made. In 2007, out of 184 aides interviewed for the analysis only three Latinos were listed among key staff, and one of those was the executive director of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC)--a position one would reasonably expect a Latino to hold. …

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