Two Photos Reveal Congress' Diversity Problem

July 20th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

After House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) posted a selfie featuring a sea of white Capitol Hill interns last week, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) responded with a tweet on Wednesday showcasing the Democratic party's diverse intern pool.

Check out the differences for yourself.

This is Sheila Jackson Lee's response.

Ryan's Instagram post came under fire for its noticeable lack of diversity, with lawmakers and social media users alike expressing disapproval, The Hill reports. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) wrote that "there’s no excuse for not having diverse staff & interns" and House Democratic Conference Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) responded with a selfie featuring his office's interns.

But let's be clear — the diversity problem on Capitol Hill isn't limited to interns.

Though the 114th Congress is the most diverse in U.S. history, white lawmakers still account for 83 percent of Congress (despite the fact the U.S. population as a whole is just 62 percent white), according to the Pew Research Center. Then there's the party diversity gap: the percentage of House Democrats who are minorities stands at 74 percent, but for House Republicans, that percentage is 11 percent.

Pew Research Center

The lack of diversity among Congressional interns could also have to do with the fact that internship programs are often unpaid, writes Carolos Vera, a PR firm associate who formerly interned at the House of Representatives, the White House, and the Justice Department.

"Interning in Congress is a rite of passage for any college student who wants a career in politics, but they don't come cheap," Vera says. "Congressional internships are generally unpaid, and living in D.C. will cost you a pretty penny."

"Rent is more expensive than in most cities, and you have to budget in flights to and from D.C, transportation, food, and professional suits to wear for work. Interning on the Hill during the summer can cost a student up to $6,000 for three months. Add this all together, and you end up with a glass ceiling that is largely impenetrable for most students of color."

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