With such a blatant contradiction of values, and a missed opportunity to act without a gridlocked Congress, one has to wonder the reason for the inconsistency. Since the White House did not respond to a request for comment, we are left to surmise its reasoning.
Optimistically, the White House’s use of unpaid interns could be down to inertia and ignorance: Because the interns have always been unpaid, perhaps it just hasn’t occurred to the White House to fix that. But outside groups like the Fair Pay Campaign have been pressuring the Obama administration, and there is no sign that it plans to change the policy.
Pessimistically, then, it seems more likely that unpaid internships have been a deliberate calculation by the administration. They have decided that, perhaps, offering payment in an internship program already facing nepotism allegations would risk more attention. Or perhaps the administration has concluded that it is economically expedient to get a lot of added work-hours at no cost to them. Alas, that decision would be equally indefensible: Economic expediency at the price of human dignity doesn’t meld with Obama’s campaign against economic inequality. Besides, even in sequester-ridden Washington, intern stipends would be a drop in the bucket. Paying decent stipends for the large summer session would cost $600,000 ($4,000 per intern), well worth the labor they receive and the individuals they hope to develop.