Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez refuses to remain silent in her new role as a congresswoman–especially on matters of socio-economic injustice. This time, she’s taking on the inherently elitist institution of unpaid internships.
As the youngest woman ever elected to Congress and the first Latina elected in her congressional district, she has already made waves with her message of “Medicare for all” and the “radical” idea of social and economic justice. Since she’s been elected, she’s pulled back the veil that usually shields Americans from the inner-workings of Congress.
After organization Pay Our Interns tweeted out an advertisement for an unpaid internship in Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office, Ocasio-Cortez promised to pay her interns at least $15 an hour.
Time to walk the walk.
Very few members of Congress actually pay their interns. We will be one of them. https://t.co/BuKCDSai0K
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) December 5, 2018
Ocasio-Cortez’s pledge came after a series of events exposed that the majority of Congressional interns are unpaid, while the cost of living in Washington, D.C. is prohibitively expensive for low-income students.
After Schumer’s job posting ruffled some feathers, Bloomberg reporter Steven Dennis pointed out that there are “zero apartments under $1,000 a month on Capitol Hill” and that “seriously limits who can afford to take an internship”. This spurred Ocasio-Cortez to put her money where her mouth is and compensate her employees for their work.
Ocasio-Cortez, who has previously been candid about her struggle to make ends meet as a student working in the restaurant industry, has also decried the exorbitant cost of living in Washington D.C., a city that is made up primarily of government employees.
She took to Twitter to describe the day-to-day struggle she’s witnessed of young professionals who aren’t paid enough at their government jobs on Capitol Hill to make ends meet.
It is unjust for Congress to budget a living wage for ourselves, yet rely on unpaid interns & underpaid overworked staff just bc Republicans want to make a statement about “fiscal responsibility.”
If that’s the case, they can cut down on staff to pay them well. Or raise the MRA.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) December 3, 2018
Unpaid internships have long been a topic of debate among educators, young professionals, and employers. Opponents decry unpaid internships as “elitist” and “exploitation”, while supporters say that they’re a great opportunity for students to gain experience, networking opportunities, and school credit.
As minority students are, on average, part of a lower income bracket than their white peers, many think that unpaid internships are a roadblock towards greater social mobility among minorities in the US. Some even argue that unpaid internships benefit well-off students who can afford the cost of living in expensive urban cities and penalizes students who don’t have the means to pay for living expenses without an income.
Ocasio-Cortez’s comments against unpaid internships sparked a discussion on Twitter. Many Latinas shared the stories of and thoughts about unpaid internships:
I was a an unpaid Senate intern AFTER graduating college w/ two degrees, b/c I couldn't afford to do anything unpaid during undergrad. I worked part-time in education just to afford the commute to do this. Unpaid internships perpetuate a cycle of poverty, thank you .@Ocasio2018
— Kay Contreras (@KayMContreras) December 6, 2018
Many students are forced to use funds they don’t have, like student loans, to pay for things as simple as their commute.
This Latina explained how her paid internships made the bit of difference necessary for her to avoid crippling student loans:
I did both unpaid and paid internships. As a Latina student it was a great help. It allowed me to take a smaller loan that semester because I used to pay to purchase my books, metrocard and food. Minority students struggle even to afford business clothes. It’s tough out there.
— Dcruz (@DCruzslp) December 5, 2018
AOC is leading the way on ending unpaid internships in congress (dems are worse on this, btw). This is important because ONLY children of privilege can afford to take unpaid internshops. This will put more average Americans in these positions https://t.co/3GznGYNG08
— ???????????????????????? (@BitchyPundit) December 6, 2018
Even just a “smaller student loan” is enough to even the playing field for low-income students and students of color.
This guy highlighted the hypocrisy of organizations who claim they want more diversity, but won’t make it easier for minorities to get their foot in the door:
Organizations: "We're having trouble getting Black/Brown Interns, even with diversity initiatives."
Potential Black/Brown Interns: "How much will we earn to cover our costs of living?"
Organizations: "This is an unpaid internship."
Potential Black/Brown Interns: …
— Jorge J Rodríguez V (@JJRodV) December 5, 2018
It’s important to view the issue of racial inequality through an intersectional lens–this includes taking into account factors like class and income when trying to fix the problem.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s pledge to pay her interns is another example of how Congress needed an outsider’s perspective to begin to enact real change.