White House internships could finally become paid, making them accessible to lower-income applicants

·3 min read
joe biden white house
President Joe Biden. Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz
  • Internships in some of the country's highest offices could finally be paid.

  • The House Appropriations Committee has allocated funding for White House and State Department internships.

  • The executive director of advocacy group Pay Our Interns said this could make opportunities more equitable.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Interns at the White House and State Department may finally be compensated for their work.

Funding for both White House and State Department internships is included in bills from the House Appropriations Committee. They would get $4.5 million and $10 million, respectively. In the case of the State Department, the bill stipulates that all internships should be paid within the next three years.

For the White House, it's a historic first, according to Carlos Mark Vera, the executive director of Pay Our Interns (POI). The advocacy group, which is devoted to making internships paid, was previously successful in getting Congress to allocate $31 million to intern compensation. More recently, the group has focused its efforts on White House and State Department internships. In December, Pay Our Interns mobilized over 200 former White House interns to call on then-President-elect Joe Biden to make their old positions paid.

"In the Office of Administration's FY22 budget request to Congress, we requested funds to establish an EOP-wide stipend initiative to compensate interns," a White House official said in a statement to Insider. "Compensating interns is aligned with the Administration's priority of advancing equity, removing barriers to equal opportunity, and attracting top talent that draws from the full diversity of the Nation."

Unpaid internships - where many future powerbrokers, reporters, and other prospective scions get their start - have come under harsh online critique this past year, since the lack of compensation may shut out prospective applicants who can't afford it. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even weighed in, writing in a tweet: "Pay your interns! It'll improve your operation and make it more diverse and just."

Just last week, President Biden signed an executive order calling for the federal government to reduce its reliance on unpaid interns.

For Vera, the funding marks both an official turning point in attitudes toward unpaid internships, and another potential precedent-setting victory in a step towards greater equity.

"Internships are a racial and economic justice issue. They accelerate the inequity in our country. It deepens the racial wealth gap between white families and Black families, because internships are that pathway to get into your career," Vera said, citing findings that internships can cost around $6,000 for those lucky enough to obtain them.

He added: "A lot of these issues like student debt, the wage gap - a lot of it has to do with internships. People are taking out student loans to do an unpaid internship."

There's still work to be done, according to Vera, who wants to harness the intern-funding momentum to get federal agencies like the Department of Labor to compensate interns. And both of the bills need to pass the Senate before the funding is enacted; the House Appropriations Committee votes on the State Department funding today.

"These changes will make it easier to not only attend to public service, but allow the administration to draw in more fully of our national strengths," Vera said. "And that's like a win for the country - really tapping into the talent that has been historically excluded."

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