Capitol Hill’s hypocrisy on intern pay
Author: Michael Saltsman
Publication Date: June 2017
Newspaper: The Hill
Topics: Minimum Wage
It’s intern season in the nation’s capital, where hundreds of young adults decamp to D.C. for the summer to learn the legislative process. Who knew they’d also get an object lesson in Capitol Hill hypocrisy?
The recently-introduced Raise the Wage Act of 2017 would increase the federal minimum wage by 107 percent, to $15 an hour from $7.25. A new Employment Policies Institute analysis shows that 95 percent of the House and Senate sponsors and co-sponsors hire interns for $0 an hour.
This “do as I say, not as I do” approach to the minimum wage is not new for Democrats in Congress. A previous analysis conducted two years ago by EPI found that 94 percent of the House and Senate co-sponsors of the 2015 bill to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour did not pay their interns. (Ditto for 96 percent of the co-sponsors of the 2013 “Fair Minimum Wage Act.”)
Ten members from both chambers offer some form of a stipend; the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), is the only member who pays an hourly wage. However, Sanders’ office pays interns $12 an hour, short of his $15 demand from the private sector. (The full list of cosponsors and the compensation details of their internship programs are available here.)
Many senators and representatives who are co-sponsors of the “Raise the Wage Act” note on their websites that participants will benefit in other ways besides a paycheck. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer‘s (D-N.Y.) website states the internship provides, “a unique learning experience” and “an inside look at the political process.” Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) website states the internship will provide, “A unique opportunity to learn about the functions of the U.S. House of Representatives…”
Unfortunately, this understanding on the value of a first job doesn’t seem to extend to the private sector. Just like unpaid internships, entry-level jobs teach important skills and are often stepping stones toward higher-paying jobs and careers. According to a 2014 study by economists at the University of Virginia and Middle Tennessee State University, young adults who work part-time in high school earn higher wages later in their careers compared with those who don’t work.
Hiking the minimum wage, especially as steep as the “Raise the Wage Act” proposes, closes doors for these young people instead of opening them. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that a half-million jobs would be lost should the country move to a $10.10 minimum wage. In a separate analysis, economists at Miami and Trinity universities followed the CBO’s methodology and estimated that more than 700,000 would be lost as a consequence of a $12 mandate. At the $15 level, this number would grow larger still. (Over one hundred real stories of minimum wage harm can be viewed at FacesOf15.com.)
There’s nothing wrong with offering unpaid opportunities for young constituents to gain experience and learn new skills. But it’s hypocritical for Congressional Democrats to emphasize the benefits of a job that pays $0 an hour, while at the same time raising barriers to employment for millions of others who are trying to enter the job market. America’s young workers deserve better from their representatives.