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Political Jobs Abound Despite Economic Woes

Members of Congress lament the country’s unemployment problems on a daily basis, but when it comes to Beltway jobs, they have little to worry about.

The downturn in the economy has not dimmed job prospects among the political class, career experts said. The job climate is instead dictated by — surprise — politics.

“There are always going to be jobs in politics,” said Mag Gottlieb, career development director at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. “I think honestly we’re fairly immune.”

Brad Traverse, who runs an employment-listing website with about 6,500 subscribers, said he has been posting as many job openings as ever. The site, bradtraverse.com, focuses on jobs on Capitol Hill or in government affairs, public affairs and communications.  

“I’m not seeing any drop in employers looking for government affairs and public relations policy jobs,” he said. “I’m still listing probably anywhere from 20 to 60 a day, and even on the weekends.”

An analysis released this week by LegiStorm, a website that aggregates data about Congressional staffers, found 388 former Congressional staffers had registered as lobbyists so far this year. That’s already up from last year’s total of 373.

“I see as much movement going on now as I usually see,” said Howard Marlowe, president of the American League of Lobbyists. “In general the firms are hiring and folks are coming off the Hill.” 

The fact that the numbers spiked since last year is not startling, considering the shift in party control of the House this year. But the numbers are down from their 10-year peak in 2007, when 746 former staffers registered as lobbyists on the heels of the Democratic takeover of both the House and the Senate.

Many factors could contribute to the decline since 2007, but chief among them has been the lack of large legislative battles over “bet-the-farm” issues in this Congress, said Ivan Adler, a headhunter at the McCormick Group.

The passage of health care reform and financial regulatory reform legislation is still driving business in the lobbying world, he said, which could lead to more revenue but not likely more new hires.

“The sausage has been made and now we’re putting on the garnish,” he said. “The need for health care will continue and, I think, also financial services as they implement the bills. The demand has shifted from people who know the legislative process to people who know the regulatory process.”

Marlowe and Adler said defense lobbyists may also be in demand because defense spending may be cut by the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction.

Because Democrats control the White House and the Senate, trade associations are more apt at the moment to hire those with access to Democrats, but that is expected to change in the runup to the 2012 elections.

As policymaking simmers down heading into the presidential election year, lobbying will also cool, as firms reassess who is more likely to be in power.

“There is a rhythm that goes around the election cycle,” said Nels Olson, a headhunter at Korn/Ferry International. “If it’s a change in party in Congress or the administration, they’ll take a look at how they’re balanced.”

Congressional jobs, in the meantime, have remained relatively steady while the rest of the nation struggles with unemployment. There were 17,086 House and Senate staffers as of March 1, according to LegiStorm. While that is about 800 fewer positions than the same time in 2010, it is on par with recent years.

Thousands of potential employees have also applied to work for Congress. For instance, the House Vacancy Announcement and Placement Service, run by the Chief Administrative Officer, processed 4,329 résumés in the first six months of 2011.

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