Last week, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris announced that applications were opening for the first round of White House interns. More importantly, for the first time in history, White House internships will be paid positions. This change is intended to open up the opportunity to a wider range of applicants who otherwise might not be able to afford to take prestigious positions.

Making the White House "reflect the diversity of America"

“Too often, unpaid federal internships have been a barrier to hardworking and talented students and professionals,” Biden and Harris said in an official statement, “preventing them from contributing their talents and skills to the country and holding them back from federal career advancement opportunities.” By making the White House internships paid positions, the administration intends to “help remove barriers to equal opportunity for low-income students and first-generation professionals at the beginnings of their careers.” In addition to giving promising applicants a huge opportunity to start their careers, the administration’s revamp of the internship program will help make the White House “reflect the diversity of America.”

A vast unpaid internship system

The problem of unpaid internships has not been limited to the White House. According to data gathered by the Center for Research on College Workforce Transitions, housed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, anywhere between 31% and 58% of all summer internships in the U.S. are unpaid. With more than 3 million summer internship positions operating in the U.S. each year, the unpaid nature of so many of these jobs creates a huge barrier to entry for low-income and underrepresented people in business, politics and more.

In response to this situation, organizations such as Pay Our Interns, which launched in 2017, arose to reform the internship system in the country. The group targeted the 10,000 unpaid internships operated each year by Congress. In 2019, Congressional internships became paid for the first time, and now the White House paying its interns represents another victory for the movement.

Counteracting "Blaxit"

The announcement of a new, diversity-oriented revamp of the White House internship program comes at a time when representation in the White House has been called into question. Biden has been lauded for creating one of the most diverse cabinets in American history, with diverse staffers at lower levels as well. However, in recent months, various departures of Black staff from key positions have created a narrative that representation may be declining within the White House.

Politico recently documented more than 20 Black staffers who have left or will soon leave the White House, a phenomenon that some people have started to call “Blaxit.” With this trend reportedly impacting morale within the White House, the revamped internship program me help to revitalize enthusiasm among Black staffers and others within the administration.

Applying for the internship

Applications for the next round of White House internships are open until Friday, June 24.  To qualify, applicants must be at least 18 years old and either current students in a degree program (community college, university or graduate program), recent graduates of a degree program (no more than two years out) or U.S. military veterans who have been active duty no more than two years. Successful applicants will be notified the week of Aug. 8, and the internships will last for 14 weeks, from Sept. 12 through Dec. 16.