Whitehouse, Reed don’t pay interns

Original Article: http://www.providencejournal.com/article/20150530/OPINION/150539936/13831

  • Author: Michael Saltsman

  • Publication Date: May 2015

  • Newspaper: Providence Journal

  • Topics: Minimum Wage

New faces will soon fill the halls of Capitol Hill office buildings as students fresh off their final exams come to Washington for summer internships. Many of them will be in the offices of the 199 congressional sponsors of the recently proposed Raise the Wage Act, which would increase the federal minimum wage by 66 percent from $7.25 to $12 per hour. This includes the offices of Rhode Island Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed, both Democrats, who are sponsors of the bill.

In a press release announcing the bill, sponsor Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said, “We owe it to workers across the country to make sure our minimum wage is set to a level that works for them and their families.” Senators Whitehouse and Reed have similarly been supportive of higher minimum wages.

But neither they nor Murray have to look far to find employees who don’t get paid anything at all. None pay the interns working in their offices.

A new Employment Policies Institute analysis shows that 94 percent of the House and Senate sponsors and co-sponsors of the Raise the Wage Act do not pay their interns. (Offices were classified as having paid internships even if not all internships were paid and even if interns only receive a one-time stipend.) In other words, the same members of Congress who are pushing for a 66 percent wage hike on private sector employers are simultaneously failing to provide any wages to some of their own employees.

This “do as I say, not as I do” approach to the minimum wage is not new for congressional Democrats. A similar analysis conducted by the EPI last year found that 96 percent of the House and Senate co-sponsors of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, which would have raised the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, did not pay their working interns.

Many senators and representatives who are co-sponsors of the Raise the Wage Act note on their websites that although internships are unpaid, participants will benefit in other ways. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., says, “Interns will gain practical experience.” Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., states that interns in his office will acquire “valuable experience and knowledge.” And Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., says that her interns will strengthen “their communication, problem solving, and time management skills.”

Apparently this logic doesn’t extend to minimum wage employment. That’s despite the fact that minimum wage jobs — like unpaid internships — teach important skills and are often a first step toward higher-paying jobs and careers. According to a 2014 study from 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, shuts the door on these important opportunities for young people.

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 forthcoming analysis, economists at Miami and Trinity universities follow the CBO’s methodology and estimate that more than 700,000 would be lost as a consequence of a $12 mandate.

There’s nothing wrong with the Democratic sponsors of the Raise the Wage Act offering unpaid opportunities for young constituents to gain experience and learn new skills. But it’s hypocritical for lawmakers to tout those benefits while at the same time raising a barrier to employment for millions of others who are trying to enter the job market in an era of high youth unemployment.