Stephen Lurie raises a provocative question about a high profile government internship program in his recent Washington Post opinion piece. With all the emphasis President Obama has given to a fair minimum wage, wage equality, and access to overtime pay, is it a bit surprising that a group of workers very close to the president will work for the next four months for no wages at all?
Participants in the White House Internship program — about 150 in all this summer — will work for four months for no pay. During this time the average intern will spend around $4,000 (and in some cases much more) in basic living expenses.
And why wouldn’t they, some might ask! An internship at the White House can be a valuable stepping stone into a successful career in public service. Taking a $4,000 hit for one summer is a relatively small investment relative to your entire career, right?
But Lurie points out that “instead of offering more ladders of opportunity into the middle class, the president and other employers are handing prestigious internships — often key to future employment — to those already in the lead.” To people whose family’s have the resources to sustain an unpaid internship.
What are we supposed to make of all of this?
Internships help launch successful careers. And it is in government’s interest to train and retain top talent through its internship programs. There is no short supply of young people who will eagerly work prestigious internships for free, but there are countless more who cannot afford to pursue unpaid internships at all.
Making sure that internships — one premier gateway to a career in government service — are open to all deserving candidates seems to be a worthy goal toward the future of a strong government workforce.
Did you ever work a paid or unpaid internship? Was it beneficial to your career in the long run?