There are two common ways of thinking about Washington internships.
One, as a rite of passage for ambitious young people. And two, as singular opportunities available only to candidates whose parents are wealthy enough to foot the bill.
The latter (and let’s face it, more realistic) view is motivating a new campaign for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump to pay interns at the White House. Meet Pay Our Interns, a nonpartisan group called to action by the dearth of interns of color, especially, in unpaid roles.
Joining efforts like the Fair Pay Campaign, Pay Our Interns has reached out to both the Trump and Clinton teams to adopt its pledge, as well as various leaders and groups around D.C. (Its board members have ties to the Obama administration, the Messina Group, EMILY’s List, the Latino Victory Project and Black Lives Matter.)
One key goal is challenging the left to put its money where its mouth is.
“We see Democrats talking about a ‘living’ wage, $15 an hour, while not paying their interns,” Carlos Vera, the group’s founder, wrote in an email.
“Meanwhile, Republicans haven’t made labor a center point of their agenda, yet they in fact pay their interns at a higher rate than Democrats do. Frankly, it’s time for Democrats to practice what they preach.”
Remember back in July, when House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) posted a selfie with the GOP’s almost 100-percent white intern class?
— US Rep E.B.Johnson (@RepEBJ) July 19, 2016
Pay Our Interns has heard testimonials from young people forced into debt or want by their jobs.
Some could not accept the positions they were offered — even at the White House — because of the attendant costs. (Time magazine found living expenses during an internship in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago or D.C. can add up to $6,200 for the full time period.) One young man spoke of going without groceries to afford the dry cleaning made necessary by his office’s dress code. Another said he ate free saltines at the office for lunch because it was all he could afford.
We know there was at least one presidential candidate who understood this: Bernie Sanders reportedly paid campaign interns $10.10 an hour.