A group of over 200 White House interns — encompassing five different administrations — is calling upon President-elect Joe Biden to make these positions paid.
Historically, White House internships have been unpaid, meaning those who cannot afford to work without pay may not take the prestigious roles.
In a statement to Business Insider, Congressman Tim Ryan (OH-13) said he “hopes the White House follows our lead in the House.”
More than 200 former White House interns from five different administrations are calling upon President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to make internships paid.
Historically, White House internships have been unpaid; neither the Obama nor Trump administrations compensated their interns.
But as the group, Pay Our Interns, says, “Experience doesn’t pay the bills.” It’s calling for the Biden administration to leave unpaid White House internships in the past. Previously, it successfully pushed congressional offices to allocate $31 million towards intern compensation. Now, it wants to push the new administration to make the prestigious positions more accessible.
“The White House internship program is not your average internship program. It’s arguably the most prestigious one in the country,” Carlos Mark Vera, the executive director of Pay Our Interns, told Business Insider.
He said that the program opens doors for participants. For instance, former Democratic presidential candidate (and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary) Julián Castro was a White House intern; so was Anita Dunn, a top Biden adviser.
But unpaid internships on the whole have the potential to be exploitative. They can exacerbate income inequality, and shut out those who may not be able to afford living on no income in DC. In 2019, according to a report from Pay Our Interns, 64% of Congressional interns were white, compared to 60% of the national population and 52% of undergraduate students.
On the whole, students of color are underrepresented in paid internships, according to research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
“[Unpaid internships] prevent young people of color and low socioeconomic status from gaining valuable professional experience because they cannot afford to work for free. More specifically, unpaid White House internships prevent the same young people from civic engagement and leadership,” reads the White House call to action.
“Similarly, unpaid White House internships mean that more often, only the most affluent young people are nurtured to be future leaders of this country. This sends the message that only people of a certain background deserve the opportunity to lead.”
Representative Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) has already tweeted her support for the call to action. And, in a statement to Business Insider, Congressman Tim Ryan (OH-13) said he “hopes the White House follows our lead in the House.”
The Biden transition team did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
Vera said that, when only well-off people can take essentially full-time internships like the White House positions, “you have people that are detached from reality creating our policies that impact all of us.” The Biden administration could potentially change all of that.
“The whole point of the letter was like, ‘Hey, you know, let’s build it back better, make it equitable,'” Vera said.
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