internship

Anyone looking for an internship with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) should either be independently wealthy or be ready to work a part-time job to make ends meet.

That’s according to a new internship ad Schumer’s office recently posted. The Intercept’s Michael Whitney noticed that the internship is unpaid, despite the Democratic Party’s stance on making sure workers are paid fairly for their work.

The internship will be performing a slew of duties that are typical of paid communications associates at any political firm, and the job ad suggests that interns will be frequently required to perform at a high level under great duress.

“Responsibilities include compiling press clips, answering reporter inquiries, organizing press conferences, writing press releases, talking points and memos, conducting research and assisting the Press Staff with the day-to-day operations of a very active press office. Applicants must work well under pressure.”

“[I]f the Democratic leader in the senate can’t pay his own interns, how can Democrats talk about fair pay for anyone?” Whitney tweeted.

Washington, DC is the fifth-most expensive city in the United States, according to a 2018 report by Inc.com. Inc cited findings from personal finance site GOBankingRates suggesting that in order to live a moderately comfortable lifestyle, Americans should expect to spend 50 percent of their income on basic needs, 30 percent on wants, and put away the remaining 20 percent in savings. In Washington, DC, it’s suggested that workers need to make in excess of $90,000/year to live comfortably.

“[T]ypical rents in D.C. are $2,170 a month, just a hair lower than in Oakland,” Inc wrote. “And transportation costs are lower here, although groceries are expensive. Civil servants don’t usually earn all that much, though, which is why many of them live nearby in Virginia or Maryland.”

In 2012, Mic.com’s Dillon Cory wrote about his experience applying for an internship on Capitol Hill, and his dismay in trying to figure out how to make the internship work, as he was working for free in an expensive city.

“Despite my enthusiasm for the position, I felt mixed emotions when I was extended the offer. Like many internships on the Hill, mine will be unpaid,” Cory wrote. “For me and many of my peers, taking an unpaid internship can be a difficult decision with the cost of an education weighing heavily on all our shoulders.”

“The greatest problem that arises from unpaid internships is the barrier they place in front of economically disadvantaged students who simply can’t afford to take them. With many of the most coveted internships in pricey locations like New York City and D.C., many students can’t afford the high cost of living associated with these cities,” Cory continued. “Unpaid internships give an implicit advantage to wealthier students who can afford to go spend a summer doing unpaid work and not worry about tuition bills or living expenses.”

However, Schumer isn’t the only Senate Democrat who doesn’t pay interns. Last year, Mic.com found that 28 Senate Democrats don’t pay their interns (three of those senators — Claire McCaskill, Bill Nelson, and Al Franken — either lost their re-election bids or resigned) including outspoken progressives like Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut). In fact, a July 2017 report by WAMU found that more Republicans pay their interns than Democrats.

According to a 2016 document from the Congressional Research Service, U.S. Senators fund their offices from the Senators’ Official Personnel and Office Expense Account (SOPOEA). While amounts can vary based on the population of a senator’s respective state, the typical SOPOEA allowance for the average senator is around $3.2 million. Senators typically have wide discretion over how their SOPOEA is allocated, though using the allowance for campaign and political-related expenditures is forbidden.

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Average SOPOEA allowance, 1996-2016 (data and chart by Congressional Research Service)

Sen. Schumer’s office did not respond to Grit Post’s request for comment as of this writing. This article will be updated in the event of a response.

 

Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.

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