Who works for congress?
June 20, 2011 8:41 AM   Subscribe

Although much has been said about the demographic composition of the United States Congress, much less has been said about the thousands of staffers who work behind the scenes, drafting legislation, interacting with constituents, and advising their congressperson. The National Journal has created two infographics that attempt to describe this silent, but influential workforce.
posted by schmod (19 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
After this, I pretty much decided that I don't trust infographics at all, particularly when it comes to congressional numbers. I don't see a source for the numbers that the National Journal is working with; do you know of any? That would be useful, I think.
posted by koeselitz at 8:48 AM on June 20, 2011

I'm fascinated by the geography of this. I had generally assumed that people in the DC area who are more Republicans choose to live in Virginia, while Democrats, if they live in the suburbs, choose Maryland. Now, 62% of Republican staffers live in VA (30% DC, 8% MD). For Dems, it's 50% DC, 32% VA, 18% MD.
I assume MD is somewhat structurally disadvantaged because the Capitol Hill stops are Orange and Blue. You could take the Red, but that's still a long(er) commute from MD.

I also call foul that the youngest staffer is 25. It says "Top Hill Aides", but that's not a particularly meaningful term to me. They must be discounting all Legislative Assistants and Legislative Coordinators.
posted by quadrilaterals at 8:49 AM on June 20, 2011

Oh, and Stuff Hill People Like is pretty dead, but still true. Hill People love T-Coast, and fro yo.
posted by quadrilaterals at 8:50 AM on June 20, 2011

I believe that the National Journal conducted the survey themselves, and that the percentage of GOP staffers living in DC has actually risen over the past few years. As one high-profile example, John Boehner lives in a basement apartment in DC's Capitol Hill neighborhood.

The Senate is (much) closer to the Red Line, which goes to the "white" Maryland suburbs in Montgomery County. MARC/VRE services to the far-flung VA/MD suburbs are also very convenient to the Senate. The Blue/Orange lines service several stops in Prince George's County, MD; you don't see very many congressional staffers living out there.

Curiously (and completely anecdotally), most of the non-political support staff I know in Congress live in Maryland, and commute by car. Congress has HUGE parking lots, and big air-conditioned garages.
posted by schmod at 8:58 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pretty shocked that in this late stage of the game, they're (still) 93% white, especially given that there's a reasonable spread between Ivy and public school grads. The stereotype was once that an entry-level position on the Hill was--at many offices--a thank you to your parents for their donation; perhaps the wealth of the staffer's family of origin is still a factor.
posted by availablelight at 9:00 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Like quadrilaterals, I was interested to see the breakdown of who lives where.

The most unsurprising thing to me (besides the racial breakdown) is how few former lobbyists are staffers; that's not how it works - you work on the Hill, and then you become a lobbyist.
posted by rtha at 9:04 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

They didn't ask how many are gay?
posted by psoas at 10:33 AM on June 20, 2011

They didn't ask how many are gay?

Also anecdotal: Around 30%. Not joking.
posted by schmod at 10:37 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

In small print on this graphic:
* not hispanic
What does that even mean?
posted by blue_beetle at 10:53 AM on June 20, 2011

blue_beetle: the definition of "Hispanic" is really, really vague/hotly debated, since it has both ethnic components and linguistic components (i.e. if you speak Spanish as your first language and come from a Spanish-speaking country, you are Hispanic regardless of skin colour). As a sort of compromise, the US Census created the category "White - Not Hispanic or Latino" for a good long while. "Not Hispanic or Latino" is your standard white person and comprises the majority of Americans.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 11:05 AM on June 20, 2011

*"has used the category" instead of "created." Urgh.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 11:06 AM on June 20, 2011

* not hispanic

What does that even mean?

It means that there are people of "hispanic" decent who are white and some who are not. It's a fairly standard demographic designation--at least I've seen it on nearly all of the forms (especially the equal opportunities sections of employment applications) I've filled out within the past several years that collect this kind of demographic information.
posted by Kimberly at 11:23 AM on June 20, 2011

Spanish folks, for example, might be considered demographically "Hispanic" while their ethnic background is basically just European white. A Peurto Rican person, depending on their ethnic background, might also be considered demographically "Hispanic," but that designation doesn't completely reflect the reality of the person's ethnic background. Fairly recently, we had to implement changes to the demographic classification schemes (resulting from changes to Federal reporting requirements) at some of the state agencies I work with.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:33 AM on June 20, 2011

Given that my real name is Kimberley, having two Kimberl(e)ys in a row explain that gave me a chuckle. It really is a very US term, since I don't think I've ever seen it used in Canada.

Re: koeselitz and sourcing. The first NJ links says they the staffers themselves. "National Journal interviewed more than 300 top-level Congressional staffers for our special "Hill People" issue. [...] Every four years, National Journal devotes an entire magazine to profiling top congressional staffers, many of whom toil behind the scenes in relative anonymity."
posted by flibbertigibbet at 11:43 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

What does that even mean?

It's a great example of how race is socially constructed. There are racial hierarchies within most Latin American countries, whiter people tend to have more Spanish (or Portuguese in Brazil, Italian in Argentina) blood and be of higher socio-economic status in their home countries.

I've had friends living in the US who were perceived totally differently after they told people that they were Spanish. One girl actually told my Spanish friend "Sorry I was rude to you, I didn't know you were European!" He suddenly went from a poor immigrant (probably in a gang!) to a romantic Mediterranean (probably an aristocrat!) in this girl's eyes.
posted by atrazine at 11:54 AM on June 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

For what it's worth, you really can't understand how DC works without understanding the "top aides" (as this article calls it). If you think of Reps and Senators as generals, then the top aides are their officers, controlling tactics, operations, and marshalling the troops (drunken 24 year olds that majored in PoliSci at Arizona State). The decisions this group makes, how they conduct themselves, what they do, and who they are really does impact this nation.

I'm glad to see at least some article making an attempt at highlighting the fact that the Legislative Branch is composed of more than 535 people (and hordes of lobbyist).
posted by SeanOfTheHillPeople at 1:14 PM on June 20, 2011

They didn't ask how many are gay?

Also anecdotal: Around 30%. Not joking.

Actually, this comes up in Kirby Dick's documentary, Outrage, about closeted politicians. There's at least one interviewee who says that Capitol Hill would grind to a halt, if it weren't for all the mostly closeted gay staffers "married to their job."
posted by jonp72 at 1:33 PM on June 20, 2011

30%? At least. It's a gay mafia up there (she said in the best sense of the phrase).
posted by atomicstone at 1:38 PM on June 20, 2011

"Almost half of the top staffers have worked on Capitol Hill fewer than 10 years, underscoring the Hill's reputation for giving early and mid-career workers large responsibilities."

I assume after 10 years most molt and become predatory lobbyists.
posted by benzenedream at 5:55 PM on June 20, 2011

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