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Unpaid Interns: The White House Edition
Posted at 2:56 p.m. on July 22, 2013
Pay-the-interns advocates say the fundamental unfairness in the current system transcends the lack of a weekly paycheck. In Washington, internships function as a method of funneling ambitious young go-getters into full-time jobs: By requiring that applicants be willing to work without pay, the argument goes, the government has effectively built a socio-economic glass ceiling that prevents people from poor and working-class families from taking advantage. Supporters of unpaid internships in Washington say they are educational opportunities as good as if not better than a semester on a college campus.
While we’ve had this argument about unpaid congressional internships before on Hill Navigator, it turns out the executive branch is not much different. A few items to point out:
- As long as an internship — paid or unpaid — facilitates a path to a potential White House or congressional job, the demand will continue. And as long as people are willing to work for free, a cash-strapped Congress and executive branch aren’t likely to change the rules.
- A White House internship, like a congressional internship, is a dramatic and effective career steppingstone. McMorris-Santoro quotes one of the unpaid internship defenders, Eric Woodard, who interned for President Bill Clinton and then went to work for Hillary Rodham Clinton. Whatever Woodard’s position on internships, he now has a stellar résumé with executive branch experience. This is arguably worth more than the minimum wage he would have gotten paid. Hill Navigator isn’t endorsing paid vs. unpaid internships, but is simply pointing out that the legions of interns who descend on D.C. to fill unpaid positions will continue, as long as success stories like Woodard are held up as the example.
- Congress and the White House make their own rules. It’s one of the hard facts of life in D.C., but those entities each rule their own fiefdoms. Even as the White House argues to change the minimum wage nationally, it’s not likely to change its policy on interns, just as Congress isn’t likely to either. At least not until they see a change in the demand structure.