As a young, idealistic person, you might have big dreams of running for office. Or you might simply want to work in the public sector to make the world a better place. The problem is — as with any highly coveted industry — trying to work in government can run you into a classic catch-22: You can't get a job without experience, but you also can't get the experience without a job.
Indeed, many United States senators tout their internship programs as helpful stepping stones to a career in government — a way for young people to get that crucial first foot in the door. Perhaps that's what you're banking on, if you're planning on spending spring break banging out cover letters to snag a prestigious spot working for a legislator this summer.
The problem? Many Senate internships are unpaid, which means they are effectively expensive, locking out interns who can't afford this employment rite of passage. In general, an unpaid summer internship can end up draining away $6,000 in expensive cities like New York or Washington, D.C., according to Money, which arrived at that figure after analyzing the cost of living in six of the top cities for college-aged interns.
That price tag can be prohibitive: Critics of unpaid internships argue that — among other drawbacks — requiring interns work for free undermines meritocracy and reduces diversity, socioeconomic and otherwise.
That's one reason why a group called Pay Our Interns is trying to help end the practice of unpaid internships — starting on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday, the group rolled out a database of paid internships in the U.S. Senate. Mic took this list and then followed up with senators' offices to confirm the accuracy of the database and include senators that pay interns but were left off the original list.
In several cases, a senator's website listed internships as unpaid, but after following up with their office, Mic learned that they do make funds available to certain interns through scholarships, travel assistance, or outside foundations.
But the numbers are not especially encouraging. Less than half — 42 out of 100 U.S. senators — offer any form of financial compensation. And currently, only 24 of those that pay are still accepting applications for summer 2017. The number of paid internships could increase, however, said Pay Our Interns founder Carlos Vera: That's because eight brand-new senators just started their jobs, so their staffing decisions might not yet be finalized.
The fact that most senators don't pay interns is short-sighted, Vera said, because restricting applicants to those who can work for free limits the talent pool of future leaders: "We just look at the present, we don't look at how unpaid internships work down the road," he said.
Still thinking of cutting your teeth with a Senate internship? Here are the U.S. senators who actually pay — and the ones who don't.
U.S. senators currently accepting applications for paid internships (24 total)
• Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has an internship program for college students and high-school seniors; both get modest stipends. Deadline is March 16.
U.S. senators who have already closed applications for paid internships (18 total)
U.S. senators that do not pay their interns (50 total)
• California Sen. Dianne Feinstein's interns are unpaid, according to her Senate website. A spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
• Michigan Sen. Gary Peters's interns are unpaid, according to his Senate website. A spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to request for comment.
• Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby's interns are unpaid, according to his Senate website, which cites budget restrictions. A spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to request for comment.
• Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley's interns are unpaid, a spokeswoman confirmed to Mic in an email.
• Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt's interns are unpaid, according to his Senate website. A spokesperson didn't immediately respond to request for comment.
• Montana Sen. Steve Daines' internship page does not list any compensation, but a listing for the internship describes it as "volunteer" position. A representative for his office didn't respond to multiple requests for comment.
• Nevada Sen. Dean Heller's interns are unpaid, according to his Senate website. A representative didn't respond to multiple request for comment.
• North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis' Senate website doesn't indicate whether interns are paid or not, but job listings online say they are unpaid. A press representative didn't respond to multiple requests for comment.
• Ohio Sen. Rob Portman's interns are unpaid, a spokesman for his office confirmed over the phone.
• Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford's are unpaid according to his website. A spokesman confirmed this in an email to Mic.
• Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey's interns are unpaid, according to his Senate website. A spokesperson didn't immediately respond to request for comment.
• South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham's interns are unpaid, according to his Senate website. A spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to request for comment.
• Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker's internship website doesn't list any information about compensation, but job listings and news reports say the internships are unpaid. A representative for his office didn't respond to multiple requests for comment.
• Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson's Senate website says that interns can receive college credit, but the Atlantic and job listings indicate the role is unpaid. A representative didn't immediately respond to request for comment.
A final note: Many senators' offices, whether they pay or not, help interns get college credit for their time spent working. If that means you can graduate sooner, or pay for one fewer class in a given semester, you're technically not working for nothing. But giving interns college credits — without a stipend for living costs — still ignores what's at the heart of Pay Our Interns' point. As Vera put it himself, even the best learning experiences can't pay the bills.
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