Pay Our Interns Announces Joint Initiative with Rep. Cárdenas and Congressional Offices to Call on Department of Labor to Ensure Oversight of Internship Economy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, September 29th, 2021

WASHINGTON D.C. – Today, Pay Our Interns (POI) announced a joint initiative with the offices of Rep. Tony Cárdenas (CA-29) and thirty-six other Congressional offices, calling on the Department of Labor to ensure oversight of the internship economy. 

The initiative originated through the Pay Our Interns “Protect Interns” campaign, and calls on the Department of Labor (DOL) to create reporting requirements for unpaid internships. With internships currently unregulated and unaccounted for in federal data, policymakers and stakeholders are often unable to develop a full picture of the internship landscape. Reporting requirements would strengthen the ability of the Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to generate data on the internship economy, helping policymakers support stronger regulation and practices towards internship pay. 

“We’ve seen incredible momentum when it comes to ending unpaid internships in all sectors,” said Carlos Mark Vera, Executive Director of Pay Our Interns. “But maintaining that momentum requires having timely, accurate data on how internships are run across the country, particularly as any lack of data disproportionately impacts communities of color. The creation of a DOL reporting system would not only ensure the country’s approximately 1 – 2 million annual interns are counted, it would also ensure policymakers have the information needed to make financial and strategic decisions in ending unpaid internships, as we move forward.” 

“If we want to build a truly diverse workforce, we need to create equitable access to opportunity early on,” said Representative Tony Cárdenas (CA-29). “Data shows that internships are increasingly needed for students to learn the skill sets and build the networks they need to reach long-term career goals. When internships are unpaid, low-income students, especially those of color, are barred from those opportunities. It is fundamentally unfair, but it can be changed. Increased data transparency is an absolutely necessary step in ensuring that federal agencies leverage internships to increase diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the workforce.”

“As a former unpaid Congressional intern, I know firsthand how federal internships can be a life- and career-changing experience, but far too many people are denied that chance due to a lack of paid opportunities,” said Representative Ayanna Pressley (MA-07). “That which gets measured gets done, which is why the Labor Department must collect this critical data and ensure adequate oversight of our internship economy so we can diversify the federal workforce, increase opportunity for interns from historically marginalized communities, and benefit from the full contributions and lived experience of folks from every walk of life.”

“Internships are increasingly important in today’s economy, making it difficult to enter the workforce for those who cannot afford to work on an unpaid basis. Gaining experience simply isn’t enough, and getting ‘paid’ in experience is unacceptable,” said Representative Adam Smith (WA-09). “I have long advocated for intern pay in Congressional offices and successfully led efforts to increase funding for offices to pay interns. These paid internships help ensure that young workers from all backgrounds – not just those who can afford it – have the chance to learn and gain valuable experience while bringing diversity of ideas and background to their offices. If we are to increase accessibility to paid internships, it is critical we have accurate data to provide appropriate oversight of the internship economy. This is just one of many steps to help build a more equitable, sustainable economy.”

“Internships provide real-world experience and open doors for so many young, aspiring professionals. However, industries nationwide continue to offer unpaid internships with limited protections within the workplace,” said Representative Kaialiʻi Kahele (HI-02). “We need further reporting on the use of this unpaid labor to conduct meaningful oversight on the intern economy and ensure every aspiring professional, regardless of wealth, can access these crucial opportunities.”

POI and Rep. Cárdenas’s call for the Department of Labor to regulate unpaid internships nationally and across all sectors, and supports the Biden Administration’s June 2021 Executive Order directing all federal agencies to reduce their reliance on unpaid internships. 

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Pay Our Interns was founded in 2016 by two former unpaid interns of color. It is the nation’s leading organization fighting to ensure all students have equitable access to professional career paths through the implementation of paid internships countrywide—especially students from historically excluded communities. 

Pay Our Interns seeks to ensure individuals from all backgrounds are represented across industries impacting their communities and develop pathways for advancement. In doing so, POI creates a more equitable workforce, more diverse leadership, and a more just world.  POI is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles.

For more information, visit www.payourinterns.org

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