Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Will Pay Her Interns at Least $15 an Hour

Illustration for article titled Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Will Pay Her Interns at Least $15 an Hour
Image: Associated Press

The unpaid internship is just one more outdated, unfair, yet entirely commonplace practice inside Congress that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is aiming to shift: On Tuesday, a day after she sharply criticized the low salaries typically offered to entry-level congressional staff and proposed the sensible solution of paying people a living wage, Ocasio-Cortez announced she will become one of the few members of the House who actually pay their interns. And she won’t be giving them a “stipend,” which is often just a euphemism for extremely below minimum wage compensation—she’ll be paying her interns at least $15 an hour.

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Most of her fellow representatives need to join her. According to a report released in 2017 by the group Pay Our Interns, 51 percent of Republican senators and 31 percent of Democratic senators paid their interns. In the House, the numbers are even bleaker—8 percent of Republicans and only 3.6 percent of Democrats pay interns.

As the Pay Our Interns report’s authors wrote, aside from the fact that everyone should be paid for the work they do, unpaid internships create an often insurmountable financial barrier for poor and working-class people, with consequences that linger far into the future. “This sets a dangerous precedent towards a uniquely homogenous workforce, devoid of a wide diversity of perspectives,” they pointed out. These internships are often also a path to an actual job on the Hill, so whether or not you can accept a possibly unpaid intern position may determine whether or not you’re positioned to get a job working in Congress. This pipeline, obviously, favors rich kids.

Meanwhile, on Monday, in spectacularly bad yet delightful timing, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer put out a listing for an unpaid press intern, which Pay Our Interns quickly highlighted:

When Rolling Stone asked Schumer’s office about the ad, a spokesperson wrote that the ad was an “error,” and that beginning January, Schumer will offer his interns a stipend.

Senior reporter, Jezebel

DISCUSSION

Citizen-Kang
Citizen-Kang

I’m sure there’s some kind of loophole I’m unaware of, but isn’t there a law that states that an intern MUST be paid if ANY benefit is derived from their services? I thought this was especially true of interns for the federal government. When my daughter was in college (graduated in June; hallelujah, Jebus!!!) she was a NASA aerospace engineering intern during her summers and they paid her both times at a rate that came out to $15 per hour. They also got every other Friday off, but that’s another thing entirely. I assumed that was the case for all interns for the federal government. Have they seriously been making the argument that they are receiving no benefit from the interns and it’s solely for the benefit of the intern? That’s the only scenario I know of in which pay can be denied.