Why Don’t Democrats Pay Their Interns?

Every year, thousands of young progressives descend on Washington to intern for Democratic lawmakers.

And around the country, thousands more take internships on state and Congressional races each election cycle.

For many young Progressives, an internship like this is the surest way to get a feel for politics.

Perhaps it’s that campaign fellowship with the local Democratic committee that leads to a lifelong interest in political organizing.

Or perhaps it’s that summer stint with a Democratic representative in Washington that sparks a commitment to fight for progressive causes.

That’s how it was for me.

When I first took a serious interest in politics, I was a freshman in college.

That summer, I volunteered with a Senate race in my home state of New Jersey and was immediately hooked on campaign organizing.

That position led to another, and eventually I landed an internship with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Of course, as is common with these positions, they were all unpaid.

Since then, I’ve been able to find work in the private sector – as a paid consultant for some of the very groups where I once worked for free.

Interns. Like a tiger standing in the subway, they are easy to spot. And they often don’t get paid. Photo Credit: IAEA Imagebank/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

While I was privileged enough to take an unpaid position for several semesters – and never worry about having to pay bills thanks to the generosity of my parents – others aren’t always so lucky.

Guillermo Creamer had an unpaid internship with a Democratic member on the Hill, and later with the DC Mayor’s office.

For him, it wasn’t always easy making ends meet.

“The lack of funds really put me against the corner at times when it came to eating lunch, dry cleaning and even paying for rent,” Creamer said in an interview. “I was working 40 hours a week while being required to work a minimum of three days a week. If I ever had a gig that would come up, I’d call out of my internship because it is really hard to turn down money.”

Having had enough, Cramer, and several other Washington, DC students founded Pay Our Interns, a bipartisan campaign dedicated to pressuring more organizations to offer paid internships.

Guillermo Creamer Jr is the chief of staff for Pay Our Interns. Photo Credit: Guillermo Creamer Jr/ Facebook

So far they’ve has some success in getting Democrats to listen.

Several of the candidates currently in the running to be the next DNC chair have since pledged to create a paid internship program if elected.

Hopefully these actions will spur other Democratic organizations to do the same.

Yet challenges remain.

“We worked really hard in this internship and all we got was this lousy cake. Gee, thanks.” Photo Credit: Eden, Janine and Jim/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Hardly any Democratic members of Congress offer paid internships.

Neither do most campaigns or state parties.

Though there are a few exceptions.

Bernie Sanders pays interns at his Senate office $12 an hour as do Senators Martin Heinrich and Heidi Heitkamp.

For a party that claims to fight for the rights of workers, not paying interns is especially hypocritical.

In fact, it’s downright embarrassing.

The Republicans certainly don’t have a problem paying their interns.

The Republican National Committee runs the Eisenhower program, which pays a cohort of students to work at the party headquarters every summer.

Meanwhile, the DNC doesn’t even have an established budget line-item for its College Democrats and didn’t even have a full-time staffer dedicated to supporting these students in the midst of the 2016 campaign.

While some may say that a lack of resources are an issue, I find that argument hard to believe.

The DNC raked in $372 million in the 2016 cycle alone, while members of Congress have office budgets that run into the millions.

It costs less than $5,000 to hire an intern for a 10-week semester.

Meanwhile, there always seems to be enough money lying around for multimillion dollar ad buys, or lavish fundraisers at fancy D.C restaurants.

If the Democrats are going to be a party that stands for economic justice and the next generations of young leaders, it needs to first stop profiting from free millennial labor.

Disclaimer: Conor McGrath is a graduate student at the George Washington University and Finance Director of the DC Federation of College Democrats.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.


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About the Author
Conor McGrath is a graduate student at the George Washington University studying Public Administration. He currently works at a public affairs consulting firm and has interned with several political campaigns while an undergrad. In addition to his role at RISE NEWS, he is also the Executive Editor of Brief Policy Perspectives, a student-run policy blog, and is a contributor to the media criticism new site Media File. He’s a fan of cats, craft beer, and cold weather.
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