Are Unpaid Interns at California’s Capitol Exploitive or is it an Opportunity for Them?
Summer in almost over in Sacramento, and an army of interns has been answering phones, writing news releases and performing other tasks in the state Capitol. Many of these interns also work at various nonprofits and for-profit firms around town. These internships, many unpaid, others paying barely minimum wage, have become standard for college students and recent graduates. They have drawn criticism from people who say that these internships exploit young people, or that they’re unfair to people who can’t afford to work for free while potentially paying thousands of dollars for rent and living expenses. Carlos Vera, a recent American University graduate who founded the advocacy group Pay Our Interns, states:
You’ll hear, well, they’re not there to get paid, they’re there to get experience. Experience is awesome, but it isn’t going to pay your rent, your suits, your food or the transportation you’re going to need.
Joe DeAnda, a spokesman for the California human resources agency, CalHR, said there are no centralized numbers tracking unpaid internships with the state so it’s impossible to know just how many interns are working without pay in Sacramento this summer. While not all of California’s 80 Assembly members and 40 state Senators have interns in their Capitol offices, Kevin Liao, press secretary for California Assembly speaker Anthony Rendon, estimated that there is an average of one intern for each office. The state Senate currently pays a few statewide, and the Assembly’s most recent public payroll from the end of May lists five paid interns working for members in the Capitol, plus 12 in other offices and throughout the state. The vast majority of interns are unpaid, although some may get grant money from outside sources. The topic of interns not being paid seems to be a bit of a touchy subject, but hopefully the interns are able to learn from their internship and make the connections they need that will get them a job opportunity in the near future.