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Congressional interns wait in line, December 2019. Photo Credit: Matt McClain/The Washington Post. Getty Image.
Congressional interns wait in line, December 2019. Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post. 

Few Latinos and non-white youth among paid congressional fellows

A report revealed the underrepresentation of the country's diversity within paid internships in Congress.

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Many college students take paid internships in Congress to boost their political careers, yet a recent report shows that the interns are overwhelmingly white. Seventy-six percent of interns in Congress are white, according to the report by the nonprofit Pay Our Interns, created by former unpaid congressional interns. 

The analysis was conducted by reviewing more than 8,000 pages of payroll data to compile the racial and gender diversity of more than 3,800 interns who worked for members of Congress. The data showed that Latino and African-descent students represent 7.9% and 6.7% of the fellows even though they are 20% and 15% of the college student population, respectively. The numbers become more critical when we look at the number of students of Asian or Pacific Islander origin, who represent 7.9 percent of scholarship recipients, while American Indian or Alaska Native only 0.03 percent.

"Offices need to have equity at the core, which means they are looking for candidates from all kinds of backgrounds," said Pay Our Interns co-founder Carlos Mark Vera, who had an unpaid internship in Congress while in college and found himself working multiple jobs to make ends meet during that time.

The report's findings show information about the profile of the interns on Capitol Hill, and suggest that there is "an uneven racial and economic composition of legislative interns."

According to the data, Republican senators were nearly four times more likely (3.9%) to hire white fellows than Democrats. While lawmakers of color, who represent less than a quarter (24%) of Congress, are the ones who employ more than a third (33.5%) of fellows of color. 

While there is now a budget to compensate fellows, which is already a clear step forward, there is still a long way to go and the report highlights areas to work on.

Congressional internships are crucial to entering the world of politics, and the opportunity for people from diverse backgrounds to work in Congress should be the same as for people with more privileged backgrounds. The importance of valuing that interns have had experiences similar to those of the populations they represent, or present views on immigration issues, are elements to take into account when providing these opportunities. 
 

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