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.


If House And Senate Don’t Agree, Could There Be A Government Shutdown Over Syrian Refugee Program Changes?

The unfortunate recent terror attacks in Paris have led to more than half-31 to be precise of the nation’s governors to declare that they will refuse entry to Syrian refugees into their states.

Florida’s governor, Rick Scott among others had gone so far as to request House Republicans push a bill through Congress to prevent Syrian refugees from entering his state.

On Nov. 19th, the governors’ wishes was granted. The House passed the SAFE Act, with an overwhelming 289-137 vote, enough to override a veto, which President Obama has already said he would do if the bill were to pass the Senate.

The SAFE act wouldn’t stop Syrian refugees from entering the United States, however, it could place a very long pause on the current Syrian refugee program.

The act would add an extra screening process in the already extensive, 18-24 months, vetting procedure refugees must go through before placement in the country by requiring the directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security, and Director of National Intelligence personally sign off on each refugee granted entry.

Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are also offering their own alternative to the SAFE Act, which would place limitations on the visa waiver program by refusing eligibility to individuals who have traveled to Syria or Iraq in the past five years, the real question is whether the Senate will be able to block the House’s bill from passing before their alternative can get off the ground.

It’s also possible the House and Senate and the bipartisan coalitions in each will reach a stalemate. If you keep in mind the fact the next government budget deadline is Dec. 11th, then it wouldn’t be completely out of place for House Republicans, (with perhaps some Democratic support) to threaten another government shutdown in order to pass the SAFE Act. In fact, it is entirely possible.

Cover Photo Credit: Freedom House/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Scroll to top