The latest harvest of fresh-faced, eager interns arrived on Capitol Hill for the summer, and they come mainly from wealthy households and selective schools.
In a new survey of 487 Hill interns, nearly half, 46.7%, attend a private college or university, which about twice the rate seen in the overall student population. And 23.4% grew up in a household with an annual income of $ 200,000 or more.
“If you care about a functioning congress, you need to care about who serves as congressional interlocutor,” says Anne Meeker, director of strategic initiatives at the PopVox Foundation, a good government group.
“Today’s interns are tomorrow’s staff members. Policies are formed by who is in the room, including both [congressional] members and staff; and almost universally, the path is beginning to become a staff member with an internship, ”Meeker said.
For perspective, annual tuition at public colleges averaged about $ 9,600 in the 2021-2022 academic year, while at private schools it was about $ 33,200, according to EducationData.org.
And median household income in 2020 – the number in the exact middle of all income – was $ 67,251, according to the US Census Bureau.
There are a few caveats to the survey, whose participants attended a two-day non-partisan internal orientation in June, sponsored by PopVox and a coalition of similar groups called the First Branch Intern Project. But it also provides another data point in the long-running debate over access to white-collar internships and thus other career opportunities.
Some social scientists believe internships are part of what they call “opportunity accumulation”, in which wealthy and upper-middle-class parents find ways to provide benefits to their children that are not available to others. This can take the form of formal benefits, such as paid or unpaid internships or membership of fraternities or associations, or informal benefits, such as simply introducing their children to their network of friends and co-workers.
The PopVox poll is the third since the fall of 2021. The data does have some limitations in terms of who responded – two-thirds of respondents in the latest survey served in a Democratic office, the group said, and 81 % worked in House Offices instead of in the Senate.
But the findings in line with previous research by Pay Our Interns, a group founded in 2016 by two former unpaid interns. Using 2019 Congress’s payroll data, that group found that nearly 50% of paid Hill interns attended or attended a private college.
PopVox’s Meeker said the latest survey was encouraging in terms of racial diversity, but less so in socio-economic terms.
“It also shows where there is still a lot of room for improvement to reach interns from all backgrounds to help them get that foot in the door – especially students from middle and working class backgrounds,” she said.
“Policies are formed by who is in the room, including both [congressional] members and staff; and almost universally, the path to becoming a staff member at an internship begins. ”
– Anne Meeker, Director of Strategic Initiatives, PopVox Foundation
The PopVox survey found that 45.9% of the interns who responded were white, slightly lower than 50% reported in the spring survey. Nineteen percent were black, 9.9% Asian or Asian Americans, and 7.1% Hispanic or Latino.
These figures actually reflect more diversity than the Pay Our Interns study, which found that 76% of all interns were white from April to September 2019, while only 6.7% were black, 7.9% Latino and 7.9% Asian Pacific Islanders.
In terms of gender, most of this summer’s interns are women, 56.4%, while men made up 42.5% of the class and 1.2% were identified as non-binary.
About 65% of the interns in the survey reported receiving a grant from their offices. Since 2019, House members have provided funding to pay their interns if they so wished. Interns can also be paid from individual offices’ budgets.
The most cited concern of the summer 2022 interns was to be able to afford to move and live in Washington, which is cited by 65.7% of respondents.