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Why We Still Haven’t Solved the Unpaid Internship Problem


The president and vice president announced this month that they were going to pay their interns. The White House put out a news release. I think we were supposed to stand up and cheer.But the correct response ought to be collective embarrassment that this gig has been unpaid for so long — and that so many more internships, both in Washington and across America, remain so.Millions of college students work for money each summer because they need it and their financial aid office tells them to go earn some. Then there are those White House interns from previous administrations — often white, sometimes rich and, by summer’s end, presumably very well connected — buffing their résumés.Is the problem evident? It first clicked in for me in the early 1990s when my interview for a summer internship at Chicago magazine was going well until I found out that I’d be working for free.When I started asking questions — what was a financial aid recipient like me supposed to do to make enough to afford school, and isn’t this all a form of classism? — the tenor of the meeting took a turn. I didn’t get the offer.Only decades later are we now arriving at what the White House calls this “significant milestone.” But what happened in the years in between, and who’s responsible fo …

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