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Uproar over unpaid internships hits White House

The White House is pictured on January 19, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

Unpaid internships have been in the spotlight since a judge ruled earlier this summer that Fox Searchlight Pictures should have paid some production interns minimum wage. Now the White House is feeling the heat about its unpaid internships, with the Fair Pay Campaign, an advocacy group, pushing the White House to pay its interns.

The only people who can afford to do unpaid internships are people that can afford to work for free,” says Mikey Franklin, who runs the group. “And that’s a very narrow subset of people that might want to do a White House internship.”

What we do know is that this summer’s crop of 150 interns includes 40 Ivy League students or recent graduates. (We know because we had our intern -- who's paid --  count them.) And the list is reported to include the children of political insiders Larry Summers, Ron Klain, and Steve Rattner.

Jeff Cavanaugh became a White House intern in the spring of 2004 because he thought the experience would boost his resume.

“As a matter of fact, it did do that," says Cavanaugh, who got college credit for his internship while he was working his way through school. "I actually went back after I graduated from college and was on staff in the same department at the White House."

Barry Bluestone of Northeastern University worries that students  forced into debt are limited in their internship options.

“If those internships don’t pay, it becomes more and more difficult for students to pay for their tuition,” he says.

While it's clear that students who can afford to accept unpaid internships like those at the White House do benefit, but the debate over whether enough students with low-income backgrounds get the chance is not over yet.

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I hear unpaid internships discussed all of the time, but no reports ever point out that if college credit is given/paid and accepted at the student's college, that is one less course that the student has to take. That is one less course that the student has to pay for, which can mean a (paylike) savings of whatever that course would have cost. In my son's case, it was $3,500. Not bad pay for on the job training and resume enhancement.

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