Thursday, November 19, 2009

Race and staff

She was pretty clear that one of the reasons that she hired him is because he was a white man, because she was African-American, and she needed that credibility with the white community. It helped her get a credibility, not just in the district, but on the Hill. She felt like it was giving her credibility with other members of Congress to say, you know, I'm about white people too, and I'm not just about black people.
That's a staffer on Capitol Hill, explaining why an African American member of Congress hired a white chief of staff. The quote comes from "Faces in the Office: Racial Employment Segregation among Congressional Staff," a paper by Curtis Ziniel at UC Riverside. I can't recall seeing too many studies of congressional staff, and this seems like a particularly interesting line of inquiry.

Ziniel finds a somewhat pernicious racial disparity resulting from congressional staffing decisions:
I find that members of Congress disproportionately employ black and Hispanic staffers in district offices and constituent service positions rather than in the Washington D.C. office and policy advisory positions. Minority staffers also hold fewer high level office positions which suggests that they have less influence with their members of Congress. These disparities in staff responsibility raise questions about the extent to which minorities can impact the legislative decision making process of members of Congress.
I can't help but think that at least part of this is related to economic disparities. White staffers are disproportionately wealthier than staffers of color and thus more likely to be able to relocate to Washington, DC. But whether the difference results from economic causes or hiring decisions by the congressional office, the effect is the same.

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