Digital Readiness (Part 2)

with Spencer Overton, President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

National Science and Technology

The nature of technology is ever-evolving. In the next few years, the launch of 5G wireless broadband is anticipated. How might this and other emerging technologies impact communities of color? Part 2 of a discussion with Spencer Overton, President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.  Click here for part 1 of Digital Readiness.

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See a partial transcript of this interview below:

Traynham: I want to talk about the building behind us, the U.S. Capitol. Obviously, we have the U.S. House, we have the U.S. Senate. We know what that looks like in terms of ethnic makeup. But it appears at the next layer, in terms of the senior staff and the rest of the staff, for lack of a better term there doesn’t appear to be a lot of diversity there. Your organization has studied this, and found what?

Overton: We found that there´s just a complete lack of diversity, especially in the Senate, of top staff, diversity among top staff. So, people of color make up about 36% of the U.S. population, but account for only 7% of top senior staff. Latinos are only about 2%, African-Americans about 1%. The reason this is important, Robert, is this is a body that oversees the federal government, when we talk about 4 million employees, a budget that´s almost $4 trillion dollars here. And so there´s some really significant decisions that are made in the U.S. Senate. Confirmation is another big thing that´s unique to the Senate, and senior staff play a big role in terms of that.

Traynham: Spencer, let me play the devil´s advocate here. Some members of Congress would say, one — I can´t find qualified individuals of color. Meaning in the area of expertise that I need them in, a legislative assistant on “X,” “Y,” or “Z.” B — I´m not feeling any pressure from my constituents to hire a diverse staff, and/or C — no one´s knocking on my door with résumés. In other words, my talent pool is not diverse because these individuals are not applying. Do they have a point there?

Overton: So, to address that, certainly part of the point of our report is to inform constituents. And we’ve started to actually do phone calls, conference calls with local civil rights organizations and local Black and Latino media outlets, to inform them and to educate them about this issue, so that constituents can communicate with elected officials. I think the pipeline is an issue, and it goes all the way back to internships, many of which are unpaid, and some folks of color aren’t able to participate in them. Having a diverse group of L.A.s, legislative assistants, and those L.A.s go on and become LDs and Chiefs of Staff. So there are a variety of structural issues that we have to deal with. I don´t want to just point the finger. I will say that, in terms of top staff, of the five black top staff, four of them are Republicans and one of them, only one of them is a Democrat. And I think that the pool of potential Democratic top staff is probably larger than the pool of top Republican staff. And so I think it´s not just the pool issue.

Traynham: Spencer, last question for you is, for the member of Congress, perhaps his or her Chief of Staff, maybe for his or her constituent that´s either watching this program and is intrigued by the lack of diversity in the building behind us, or would like to get more information on our other topic, in terms of the digital divide, where can they go?

Overton: JointCenter.org. JointCenter.org, that´s The Joint Center´s website.

Traynham: Spencer Overton, thank you very much for joining us.

Overton: Thanks, Robert.

Traynham: And thank you for joining us for this edition of “Comcast Newsmakers.”I´m Robert Traynham. Have a great day, everybody.We´ll see you next time.Bye bye.