Paid Congressional Internships

Paid Congressional Internships

On average, there are 3,841 paid interns working in Congress. Congressional internships offer amazing work experience and a first hand look into democratic lawmaking. However, a recent study by Pay Your Interns found that white and more economically privileged individuals are disproportionately more likely to get these competitive internships. This is troublesome because those who get congressional internships influence public policy, and some may go on to become elected officials themselves. Additionally, these internships create important opportunities to increase civic engagement, and it is especially important for people of color and those less economically privileged to have their voices well-represented. To learn more about the study, what paid congressional interns actually make, and who gets these internships, click on the questions below.

Congressional internships offer unmatched opportunities to observe the democratic process firsthand. Interns can influence Congressmen and can shape the Congressmen’s point of view on public policy. By voicing their opinions, congressional interns increase civic engagement and can act as a voice for their respective communities. Additionally, congressional internships are often a prerequisite for full-time employment in Congress.

No. Before 2017, only 10% of congressional interns were paid. But, in 2018, Congress passed a bill setting aside $13.8 million to pay congressional interns. However, Congress is not required to use these funds for that purpose. Both the Senate and the House, however, use the vast majority of these funds to pay their interns. Specifically, 96% of Senate offices used the funds to pay at least one of their interns, while 92.5% of the House offices used the funds to pay at least 1 intern.

The House of Representatives receives $20,000 per office to pay its interns. On average, there are 5.7 interns per office. The average stipend these interns receive is $1,612.53 for the average 32 day period they work.

The Senate receives $50,000 per office to pay its interns. On average, there are 15.8 paid interns per senatorial office. Senatorial interns, on average, receive a stipend of $1,986 for the average 30 days that they work. This is 23% more than what an intern for the House makes. While Senators represent more constituents, interns in both the House and Senate do a comparable amount of work, but are not paid accordingly.

It is important to note that paid congressional interns are almost always required to live in D.C. Unfortunately, the stipends congressional interns receive are not enough to cover the living and working expenses in D.C. As discussed in Question 7, many interns most likely come from an affluent background and may be able to afford the additional expenses while those less affluent may not. This may deter less affluent individuals from pursuing these internships, negatively impacting their representation in the democratic process.

The racial makeup of paid congressional interns is disproportionately White compared to the racial diversity amongst the pool of undergraduate students from whom Congress hires. The most disproportionately underrepresented groups are Black and Latino individuals.

  • 52.6% of undergraduates are White while 76.3% of paid congressional interns are White

  • 15.4% of undergraduates are Black while only 6.7% of paid congressional interns are Black

  • 20.2% of undergraduates are Hispanic or Latino while only 7.9% of paid congressional interns are Hispanic or Latino

  • 7.6% of undergraduates are Asian or Pacific Islander while 7.1% of paid congressional interns are Asian or Pacific Islander

  • 0.8% of undergraduates are Native American while 0.3% of paid congressional interns are Native American

  • 3.4% of undergraduates are Multiracial while only 1.8% of paid congressional interns are Multiracial

For some races, yes, for others, no. The 116th Congress was the most racially diverse Congress yet, but the representation of different races in Congress varies from that of their representation in paid internships.

  • Black Americans make up 10% of all Congressmen but only 6.7% of paid interns. 

  • Asian and Pacific Islanders make up 3.3% of all Congressmen and 7.1% of paid interns

  • There are roughly equal amounts of White and Latino Congressmen compared to paid interns

Women are slightly better represented among paid interns than men, even though women are significantly underrepresented in Congress. In the House, 48.7% of its paid interns are male, while 51.3% are female. In the Senate, 44% of its paid interns are male, while 56% are female. The study did not include information on transgender or nonbinary individuals.

Relative to their overall population, students who attended private universities are better represented in paid congressional interns than those who attended public universities. Specifically, 51% of paid congressional interns attended public universities, although 74% of students nationwide attended public universities.

This is significant because of the economic and racial diversity in private versus public schools. The top private universities disproportionately enroll students from more affluent backgrounds. Additionally, the top private universities often give their students greater assistance in competing for the internships and may provide financial aid for living expenses. This is problematic because it establishes an economic barrier to getting a paid congressional internship, denying equal access to such an incredible opportunity.

Additionally, White and Asian students are better represented at the top private universities than Black and Latino students, potentially explaining why White students are better represented in the paid congressional intern population.

Yes. Republicans in both the House and Senate are 3.9 times more likely to hire White interns than Democrats. However, Democratic Senators are 2 times more likely to hire an intern who attended a private university than Republican Senators. Also, Democratic Representatives are 1.8 times more likely to hire from private universities than Republican Representatives. The study did not mention the gender diversity of interns between the political parties.

Yes. Overall, Congressmen are disproportionately more likely to hire interns of their same race. This is especially true of Latino and Asian Senators and of Black and Latino Representatives. This most likely is a strong contributing factor to the representation of people of color among paid congressional interns.

Yes. First, there are differences among the political parties. Democratic Senators pay their interns more than Republicans by an average of $382.42 per internship. There is no significant difference in compensation between the parties in the House.

Second, female Congressmen, on average, pay their interns more than men by $152.56 per internship.

Third, there are differences among Congressmen of different races. Latino Senators pay their interns more than Non-Latino members by an average of $772.03 per intern. Asian Senators paid their interns more than Non-Asian Senators by an average of $1,515.74 per intern. In the House, Native Americans pay their interns more than any other racial group.

Even though some interns are compensated more than others, as mentioned in Question 3, without additional funding from their school or other patrons, paid congressional interns cannot afford the living expenses in D.C.

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