For years, people who want to help build a better America by working in Congress have been offered "jobs" with no pay—as congressional interns. These internships are coveted because they help open doors to prestigious scholarships and graduate schools, and they help young people get started on careers in law, politics, diplomacy, business and many other fields.
But think about it. Who can afford to take a nonpaying job? Not me. And certainly not most people who come from a working-class background. I was lucky enough to have my first congressional job come with a paycheck. Otherwise, I’d have had to turn it down.
So who can afford to take these jobs, and all the doors they open? Often, it’s the very folks who already have lots of economic advantages. If you’re lucky enough to come from a family who can afford to pay your Washington, D.C., living expenses for a summer or semester or even a whole year while you learn how Congress works and rub elbows with this country’s current and future power players, that’s awesome!
But having lots of money is not a valid way to choose congressional aides. And, think about how that skews the policies that come out of Washington. What if there is a vote coming up on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, and no one in the office can speak to how the program helped keep their family in their home when mom was between jobs? Or no one to say they could not have afforded college without a Pell Grant? Or to explain why having the freedom to join a union can mean better health care and an annual family vacation for millions of America’s families? In the end, working in a congressional office isn’t just a learning experience for the intern—it provides valuable input into the decisions that senators and representatives make. And it is important that elected officials interact with people from all walks of life, not just D.C. elites.
Congressional internships should be open to all—not just to those who can afford it. Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio), a supporter of this provision, explained to The Hill: "By providing this dedicated funding to help House offices pay their interns, we are moving to level the playing field and provide opportunities for young Americans who may not otherwise have the financial means necessary to dedicate a full semester or summer to an unpaid internship."
We’re glad Congress has decided to pay its interns and encourage all U.S. employers to follow suit.