Congress pays its interns, but more than two-thirds were white in 2019, according to a report by Pay Our Interns, a nonprofit that advocates paid internships nationwide. But fellowships, which seek more experienced candidates than internships, are sometimes still unpaid. And while the House has created an Office for Diversity and Inclusion and Senate Democrats launched a diversity initiative, each congressional bureau operates independently, with no overarching human resources department, leaving diversity agencies with no power over hiring practices.
The Joint Center’s report also highlighted the difference in recruitment between political parties. While Republicans generally have a less diverse workforce, Democrats who rely heavily on the turnout of people of color to win elections don’t necessarily hire a diverse workforce.
According to the Joint Center, although black voters accounted for nearly 40 percent of Democratic turnout in 2016 in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, the three states with the highest proportion of black residents represented by two Democratic senators, there is currently only one summit. employee who is black in all six Senate offices.
“You can’t just say, I want you to vote, and not also reflect people of color in these key positions in advising members of Congress on legislation,” Ms. Brenson said.
In their letter, the black staff associations asked Congress to make “purposeful and fair hiring decisions.” But Ms Mathieu said members of Congress alone cannot be responsible for promoting diversity. The associations are also pushing for more programs to give students of historically black colleges and universities a path to a career on Capitol Hill.
Ms. Jefferson, the South Carolina physics teacher, noted that she could only work on Capitol Hill thanks to an annual scholarship that pays her more than $80,000. But she said the program itself, which is open to educators of all backgrounds, was still working to increase diversity within its ranks. And the cost of that program is covered by a federal agency — not the congressman in whose office she works. The solution, she said, is to expand programs that create long-term investments in diversity.
“How can we create more paid internships for students of color to enter — and survive?” said Ms. Jefferson, who teaches in a predominantly black, low-income school district. “Many of my students would not have access to funding to support them through an unpaid position, living in Washington, DC, to pursue their dreams.”