With 52 GOP senators and House members on their way out the door, hundreds of Republican staffers will draw their last paycheck at the end of December — and have slim hopes of getting another one anytime soon.
In Michigan Rep. Tim Walberg’s office, none of the nine soon-to-be-unemployed staffers has found a new job yet. In Colorado Rep. Marilyn Musgrave’s office, only two out of 10 have found work to replace what they’ll lose at this end of this month.
The Republican staffers are up against a triple whammy: The job market is in a nose dive nationally; with a Democratic president and larger Democratic majorities on the way, there’s not exactly a huge appetite for GOP résumés; and with President Bush leaving office Jan. 20, thousands of other Republicans are fighting for the few openings that exist.
“There’s a lot of competition right now for jobs,” said Christen Nelson, 24, a soon-to-be-former staff assistant for Musgrave, who lost her bid for a fourth term last month. “The freshman members haven’t figured things out yet, and people feel pressure before the Bush appointees go out looking.”
In the hallway outside Rep. Christopher Shays’ office in the Longworth House Office Building, David Natonski, 28, surveys a stack of roughly 60 cardboard boxes headed for the University of Connecticut, where Shays plans to set up an archive chronicling two decades in office that will end this month.
“Everyone is just trying to keep everyone upbeat,” Natonski said.
Natonski has worked for Shays since college. He hasn’t found a new job yet. As of earlier this week, only two of the 10 staffers in Shays’ Washington office had.
In other lines of work, laid-off workers might receive job training or résumé critiques. But a spokesman at the National Republican Congressional Committee seemed perplexed by a question about help with job placement.
Instead, staffers are forced to rely on friends, colleagues and old bosses for leads.
Former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee — who lost his seat in the 2006 Democratic wave — says that finding a new job can be hardest for the young staffers who do not have a long tenure on the Hill.
His people, Chafee said, had the best luck finding jobs with environmental or international nonprofits — logical extensions of his assignments on the Environment and Public Works and Foreign Relations committees. Still, he said that it took several of them four to five months to find work — and that was two years ago.
“I just got an e-mail yesterday from one of them from 2006, who still hasn’t really settled into anything. It’s hard,” Chafee said.
By any measure, it’s harder now.
The national unemployment rate was 4.5 percent in December 2006. It’s 6.7 percent now. The economy shed 533,000 jobs in November — it added 182,000 jobs in November 2006 — and political Washington hasn’t been immune. The National Association of Manufacturers cut 17 jobs last week, and the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association have shed employees, too.
Meanwhile, the offices of incoming Republican members are already buried under an avalanche of applications from GOP job seekers.
Michael Cravens, chief of staff for incoming Mississippi Rep. Gregg Harper, said Harper has received about 160 résumés for 16 openings — all of which are now filled. “Because of turnover in a number of congressional offices, we’ve seen really qualified candidates,” Cravens said.
While the changing of the guard in congressional offices won’t mean a net loss of jobs — the Republicans’ loss is the Democrats’ gain — it does reduce the number of openings available or appealing to GOP staffers.
“The supply is far outweighing the demand,” said a GOP leadership aide who’s been looking for work since the night of the election. “Everyone right now is in the same boat — GOP staffers on the Hill, staffers in the administration.”
The aide said he’s sent out two dozen résumés and is relying on friends to spread the word. He hasn’t landed anything yet, and he’s begun to worry about his January mortgage payment. But he says he’s confident that he’ll “land somewhere” — either on or off the Hill.
“I have to keep my options open,” he said.
Brenda Kupchick, 44, is about to lose her job in Shays’ Connecticut office. And though she doesn’t have anything else lined up yet, she said she won’t try to work for Jim Himes, the Democrat who will replace her boss come January.
“It’s kind of like if your father owned a business and then there was a hostile takeover,” said Kupchick, whose Facebook profile features a photo of her holding a handwritten sign that reads, “I love Shays.”
Kupchick said she and her husband own a heating and air conditioning company. Still, she’s worked for Shays for seven years and is nervous about what will come next. “I wish I was 28 in this job market,” she said.
A Republican press secretary admitted to feeling confident because he’s being paid through the end of February. He did not want his name used for fear that it might hurt his job prospects. But he said he takes comfort in the idea that politics will always be its own microeconomy.
“If you look at politics as one sector of the economy, there are always plenty of jobs for people who understand the Hill — recession or not,” he said.
Rebekah Hildebrandt of New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu’s office wrote in an e-mail that she did not plan to seriously look for work until after the holidays.
But for many of the soon-to-be-former Republican staffers, a greater sense of anxiety is setting in.
“We just lost 500,000 jobs last month, so no area is immune to this,” said Travis Burk, press secretary to Virginia Rep. Thelma Drake.
Burk is being paid through the end of December and has already applied for 10 jobs, including making pitches to incoming new members. “I have time to nail stuff down, but it’s certainly going to get worse in January and February,” he said.
And even for those who find work, some staffers worry that their opportunities for advancement might be limited.
“I’d like to stay on the Hill and be a legislative director. I’ve been a senior legislative assistant for four years now,” said 30-year-old Matthew Mika, who’s about to lose his job in Walberg’s office. “But a job is a job.”
Nancy Cook is a writer who lives in Washington. Amie Parnes and Sarah Abruzzese contributed to this story.