White House Under Fire For Not Paying Interns

Another day, another swipe at unpaid internships.

We've heard the White House is pretty busy these days (well, and all days) but the Fair Pay Campaign has now demanded the Obama administration take a time-out and pay their bloody interns. The White House, which has been not paying its hundreds of interns for years, hasn't commented and presumably isn't exactly sure how it got dragged into all this.

Depending on who you ask, unpaid internships are either a great way for America's youth to gain experience and bolster their resumés, or a grossly unfair scheme that takes advantage of joblessness and promotes the gap between rich and poor. Backlash against unpaid programs has recently seen a resurgence, after a judge ruled this summer that Fox Searchlight broke labor laws by not paying their interns, and not giving them enough of an educational experience to justify the lack of pay.

The Fair Pay campaign has asked the Obama administration to set an example by paying its interns. Fine, except the White House employs more than 300 interns each year, and works them from 9 to 6 each weekday. If they had to pay their interns $9 — the figure Obama suggested to be minimum wage — that would add up to a grand total of $2.5 million. The White House can't even afford to do tours anymore, so we're not sure how they'd handle that.

If the White House began paying its interns, the standard of employment would likely rise, too. After all, if you're investing more than two million dollars for labor, then you'll want people who know what they're doing. And that generally means experience, potentially a lot of it. This would block the opportunity to work at the White House for a summer from recent graduates with no experience in politics or administration. At the moment, they're prestigious — if they become full-time jobs, they'll be out of reach for many.

President Obama has waded into the internship debate before. Back in 2010, the Department of Labor established a set of guidelines for unpaid internships, thus making it harder for employers to use them: now, employers have to train their interns in their professional field, and provide them with an appropriately "educational environment." Even more, the employer should gain no particular advantage from training said intern, and "the employer's operation may be impeded."

In short, it's difficult to accept much help from an intern and not pay them — unless you're doing it illegally, which, by those guidelines, most companies are. Sheryl Sandberg's nonprofit, Lean In, was recently criticized for advertising for an unpaid "volunteer," and corporations are getting skittish about finding themselves into the same hot water as Fox Searchlight.

Critics maintain that paid jobs require a higher standard of experience, and banishing unpaid internships would block training for seniors or graduates. This can deny them the "halfway point" between college and employment that they would have volunteered for and benefited from.