Many Dem Staffers on Capitol Hill Face Tough Job Market

Staff members wait to re-enter the Cannon House Office Building after an evacuation. (AP)

Staff members wait to re-enter the Cannon House Office Building after an evacuation. (AP)

In the wake of last week's elections that gave Republicans control of the House and increased their numbers in the Senate, the unemployment rate among Democratic aides on Capitol Hill is about to go up sharply.

While resumes flood Republican offices for the sudden surge of new positions, Democratic staffers will be competing for jobs around Washington and across the country in an economy still struggling to recover from the worst recession in decades.

Republicans took more than 60 seats in the House from Democrats and six in the Senate.

For those working for those Democratic lawmakers who lost, the options in Washington politics will be somewhat limited because there's unlikely to be more than one Democratic presidential campaign in 2012.

Lobbying won't offer much more relief either, insiders say, because K Street is looking to beef up its staffs with Republicans to ensure it has influence with the new political order in Washington.

It's not clear exactly how many Democrats will be out of work in the new year – some staffers have estimated as many as 5,000, a figure others say is on the high side.

"There are going to be thousands of Democrats who are out of a job or underemployed," said Jock Friedly, founder of LegiStorm, a website that tracks congressional staffing and salaries.

The typical House office has about 18 staffers. In the Senate, there's more than 30. There's also 250 leadership staffers on both sides in the House. Of the 1,500 House committee staffers, about two thirds, or 1,000, are Democrats. That number will fall to 500 in the new Congress.

Some Capitol Hill aides were philosophical about their future.

"Everybody who works these jobs knows they're temporary," said John Schadl, spokesman for Rep. Jim Oberstar, who served 36 years in the House before losing last week. Schadl, who has worked for Oberstar since 1994, said he has sent his resume out on the Hill but is keeping his career options open.

"The fact is, there are more Democratic staffers than positions," he said. "That means a lot of us are going to be looking for other things to do."

Schadl acknowledged that staffers in Oberstar's office were caught off guard by his loss.

"Some in our office are scrambling and rethinking things," he said. He added, "Even in an office like ours, where it was considered a safe seat, folks always knew at some point the job would end. They're thinking about the other things."

Jose Borjon, spokesman for Rep. Solomon Ortiz, who is trailing his Republican challenger by nearly 800 votes and is pushing for a recount, said some of his colleagues are looking forward to the lighter workload that comes with being in the minority.

"We get to get out by 4, we can get to that softball field by 4:30," he said colleagues have told him, half jokingly.

But he's confident that he and his colleagues will land on their feet.

"The one good thing about Washington, there's a lot of jobs in all senses. It's one of the regions least affected by the recession," he said. "To get to Washington, you are the top gun of the top guns in this country."

Friedly noted that the lobbyists on K Street won't be very interested in the newly unemployed Democrats.

"K Street is already filled with Democrats," he said. "They're not looking for Democrats. They're looking for Republicans to make sure they have influence on Capitol Hill."

But Friedly said there may be some openings in the White House as staffers burn out from the daily grind. He said there will also be opportunities with special interest groups and think tanks.

"The job market is still reasonably good for well-educated people who have Capitol Hill experience," he said. "Junior staffers are going to have more trouble."

Josh Taylor, a spokesman for Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas, said there are options, even grad school.

"Obviously, you don't want to be without a job in this economy," he said. "But it's different here than the outside world."

He said there's mixed emotions among his fellow staffers "who put so much effort into their jobs and are now looking for employment." But they're also looking forward to new challenges, he said.