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The White House is finally paying interns. But the exploitation continues.

The White House is finally paying interns. But the exploitation continues.

The White House is finally paying interns. But the State Department has work to do.

It was welcome news when the White House announced that interns would start getting paid. For too long these positions lay beyond the reach of those without the means to pay their way — often thousands of dollars over the course of the summer when factoring in rent, food, professional clothing and transportation. That’s meant that the well-off get an unfair advantage in obtaining the prestigious pre-career posts that are often crucial for gaining entry into highly competitive and power-wielding positions. Too many students who have to pay for school are relegated to fast-food employment so they can afford their tuition, let alone think about pursuing internships.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken does seem to understand that his department has made the pipelines for entering the ranks too narrow, but he’s applying the wrong correctives.

I know how valuable these internships are from my own experience. Heading into my senior year of college, I got an internship at the United Nations. The experience played a pivotal role in my professional life. It was probably the main reason I was able to pass the Foreign Service exam at 21 and enter the State Department. But it was unpaid and living in Manhattan was expensive, even if I could crash at my aunt and uncle’s. So I waited tables on weekends to cover costs. 

A generation later, the State Department is only just starting to pay some interns. Starting this fall, they will accept 1,000 applications for positions that will include pay and — crucially — free housing. But lots of applicants will be rejected, while the department is still advertising many more unpaid positions. 

More is needed to create systematic change. The State Department continues to provide an unequal starting point for diplomatic careers and other crucial government posts. They need to end the practice of accepting free labor from students, which creates inequitable professional paths into diplomacy. This exploitation means most students without means are forced to pursue work close to home and never again look abroad for opportunities.

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