House Democrats call on Labor secretary to regulate internships
A group of 37 House Democrats on Tuesday called on Labor Secretary Marty Walsh to amp up regulations on internships, particularly unpaid internships, in an effort to eliminate barriers they say keep minority workers out of certain industries.
The letter, led by Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), touted a June directive from President Biden that restricted unpaid internships in the federal workforce and asked Walsh to expand those restrictions to private industry.
“Paid internships help create a more robust and diverse workforce, particularly for students of color, who often struggle to choose between a paycheck and internship program,” wrote the members.
“Unpaid internships frequently act as barriers for individuals from working-class backgrounds to enter the workforce.”
The Department of Labor did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.
The lawmakers relied on decade-old estimates by USA Today that showed there were about 1.5 million internships in the United States, about half of them unpaid.
“Because the Bureau of Labor and Statistics traditionally does not track internships, many go unaccounted for in federal data and unregulated,” they wrote.
But even as data on internships has gone untracked, their importance as an access point to the professional workforce has risen.
The lawmakers cited a National Society of Experiential Education study that found less than 3 percent of college graduates had been interns in 1981; that number rose to 17 percent in 1992 and to almost 62 percent 2019.
The lawmakers asked Walsh to beef up the federal government’s tracking of internships, as well as to roll back Trump-era regulations that made it easier for employers to categorize employees as interns in order to avoid paying a salary.
And they called on Walsh to increase the Labor Department’s oversight on potential violations and to create a campaign to inform interns about their labor rights.
LETTER DOL Internship Economy on Scribd