Recently, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies released a report highlighting the lack of diversity among U.S. Senate staffers, particularly at the senior level. Latinos make up over 16 percent of the U.S. population but only 2.1 percent of top Senate staff.
Congressional staffers advise Senators and Representatives on the nation's most important issues. From healthcare, education, immigration and more, members of Congress rely on key staffers for critical advice. That's why it's so important that all American communities are represented in the halls of Congress. Unfortunately, there is a diversity crisis on Capitol Hill and many perspectives and life experiences are absent at the top levels of the policy and decision making process.
We do know that there is an abundance of Latinos with the skills, talent and drive to work in Congressional offices. The problem is that Washington can be an insular city; it often takes knowing the right person who can notify you of a vacancy for you to even know one exists. Without access to these circles and networks, Latinos can be at a disadvantage. Another barrier is related to finances. Many Latinos cannot afford to pick up and move to Washington for an unpaid internship, which can be a prerequisite to starting a career in the nation's capital.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) is proud that the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies report recommended its internship and fellowship programs as resources for Senate offices to increase diversity in their ranks. For more than 38 years, CHCI's leadership development programs have worked to educate, empower and connect hard working Latinos who have a passion for public service, and provide access to prestigious public policy roles and the powerful networks necessary to advance in their careers. Our paid internships and fellowships provide leadership development training and place participants in Congressional offices, federal agencies and national nonprofits.
At CHCI we believe that diversity and inclusion are pillars of democracy. From city halls to state legislatures, to Congress, we need more Latinos actively involved and advocating on behalf of the communities they come from. Who else can speak to the needs of Latino communities better than Latinos themselves?
Although the report released this week revealed discouraging numbers, there is also cause for hope. Because of the efforts of CHCI and many other organizations and individuals dedicated to the advancement of the Latino community, Latinos are positioning themselves for important roles at all levels of government. Today there are CHCI alumni serving in the Senate, the House of Representatives and federal agencies as advisors, communications professionals and more. Some of CHCI's distinguished alumni serving in the Senate now include Juan Pachon, communications director for Senator Robert Menendez, Marvin Figueroa, senior policy advisor to Senator Mark Warner, and Veronica Duron, legislative assistant for Senator Chuck Schumer.
We know that the percentage of Latinos serving as staff in the Senate, and in all levels of government, must improve so that our interests are taken into account during public policy decisions that impact all communities. It's an honor to be recognized as part of the solution and CHCI remains energized to continue working to ensure that leaders and decision makers in public policy better reflect the great diversity of our nation. It won't be long before Juan, Marvin, Veronica, and the many CHCI alumni coming up behind them, will impact the diversity numbers in the Senate and beyond.
Cristina Antelo is the interim president & CEO for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), vice chair of the CHCI Board, and principal at the Podesta Group.