In December, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office posted an ad for a full-time, unpaid internship. He was roundly criticized, quickly claimed the posting was “made in error,” and said interns would be paid starting January. It’s curious, then, to see Nancy Pelosi, his counterpart in the House, post an ad for an unpaid internship on Tuesday.
The ad was posted on Daybook, which bills itself as a jobs site for “political, policy and non-profit professionals.” Within half an hour of Splinter reaching out to Pelosi’s office for comment, the listing appears to have been taken down. (We’ll update this post if we hear back.)
According to a Daybook email, the listing was added in the last day, and was billed as unpaid:
The text of the ad that appeared on Daybook mirrored the same job posted on the Speaker’s site, which also disappeared shortly after we reached out. (That link now redirects to outdated service changes on the BART.)
Here are screenshots of the unpaid internship that was posted on her site (we redacted the Pelosi staffer’s contact info in the second image):
The responsibilities listed:
Responding to constituent requests
Attending Congressional hearings
Assisting with special projects, including legislative research
Other miscellaneous tasks, as required
Sounds awful! Certainly not things anyone should have to do for no money—though admittedly the responsibilities aren’t as advanced as the ones Schumer wanted done for free, which included writing press releases and compiling press clips, tasks usually done by paid communications staffers.
The Department of Labor actually sets standards for unpaid internships: The internship must be for the intern’s benefit and not the employer, for example, and the employer shouldn’t derive any actual advantage from the intern’s work.
But the major problem with this internship is what unpaid internships do to the makeup of congressional staff. It’s pretty simple: If you offer a job—full-time or part-time—but don’t pay for it, you’re going to get people who don’t need to work for their money. You’ll get richer and whiter applicants, people whose parents can pay their rent or their living expenses while they’re working for free. You’re going to get people whose life experiences don’t reflect the vast majority of Americans, and especially not poorer Americans who are already underrepresented in our millionaire Congress.
Those unpaid interns—the little Blakes and Charleses and Cassandras—in turn get hired as staffers, who end up as legislative directors, or chiefs of staff (and, eventually, lobbyists on K Street). When those who can afford to work for free make up the vast majority of people who get the opportunity to work on the Hill, you end up with a congressional staff full of privileged idiots who don’t understand, for example, what it’s like to struggle with college debt or what it’s like to apply for Medicaid. That shapes the policy choices congressional offices make.
Above all else: Work is work, and it should be compensated as such. There’s no excuse for a Democratic member of Congress, least of all the Speaker of the House, to hire unpaid interns in 2019.
Update, 3:07 p.m. ET: After Splinter’s story was published, the advocacy group Pay Our Interns reached out with a statement praising Pelosi for helping pass a fund to pay congressional interns’ wages last September. The statement claimed offices can’t access the funds without “proper House Administration guidelines,” and that the funding would not “completely eliminate unpaid internships.”
“It is our expectation and acceptance that offices will have both unpaid and paid internships,” the group said.
Pelosi’s office has yet to reply to any of our questions or explain whether or how this relates to their job listings.