About ProgressiveCowgirl

Colorado native, young professional, progressive cowgirl. 4-term FPE (aka masochist).

Are Unpaid Political Internships Withholding Opportunity from Young People?

(Damn good post, Cowgirl. – promoted by c rork)

The unpaid internship is a rite of passage for young professionals today–or, rather, for the young professionals who can afford to perform weeks or months of work without financial compensation. Says Ross Perlin, the 28-year-old author of Intern Nation:

Those who can’t access internships, those who can’t pay to play, who can’t afford to work unpaid for significant amounts of time … those people are being left behind, and they’re unable to enter a lot of key professions in the white-collar workforce. Professions like politics, media, film, and entertainment. There is a social justice issue here.

(emphasis mine)

As a twenty-something young professional myself–and one who had to leave unpaid internships behind after high school, as I was self-supporting with no debt by age 18–this quote rang true to me. How many of my talented young friends would have the resources to take the internship of a lifetime if it came without even a small stipend? I can think of few.

Upon digging deeper, I discovered additional troubling statistics indicating a potentially worsening class divide among the young.  

One study is especially applicable to our little corner of the Internet. From the University of California, Berkley:

Overall, the study found, less than 10 percent of the U.S. population is participating in most online production activities, and having a college degree is a greater predictor of who will generate publicly available online content than being young and white.

The results suggest that the digital divide for social media users is wider between the haves and have-nots than it is between young and old, and underscore growing concerns that the poor and working classes lack the resources to participate fully in civic life, much of which is now online. That chasm is unlikely to break down until everyone has a host of digital production tools at both home and work, Schradie said.

(Hat tip to Sirota for bringing this study to light–I’m not the biggest fan, but the man knows how to spot a compelling story.)

What does this have to do with unpaid internships? Bear with me for a moment, and let’s look at something lower-income students depend upon heavily: Libraries. In 2010, Library Journal reported that social networking sites are segregated by income and social class. Myspace attracts residents of blue-collar neighborhoods, with only 16% of users making over $100,000 annually. By comparison, more than one-third of LinkedIn users earn six figures. According to the same article, young people using the Internet at public libraries tend to be loyal MySpace users.

In a 2009 presentation at the International Communications Association Conference, danah boyd documented a migration from MySpace to Facebook as a population of students graduated from high school and moved on to college. She suggested that it’s not a matter of choosing one over the other as much as an exodus fueled by the perception of MySpace as an unsafe ghetto.

Back to those internships once more. As Perlin points out, it takes significant resources to work for free. Even living on a shoestring budget and student loans, you’ll likely need, at the very least, friends willing to house you in the area of the internship for nothing or almost nothing; enough cash on hand to pay for transportation; contacts or credit to acquire professional apparel; and the list could easily go on.

But if you secure one of those high-profile political internships, presto! You’re exposed to white collar social networking. You’re part of that top 10% creating the bulk of publicly available Web content. Why? Because, in internship situations, young people are typically called upon to handle social networking, which is perceived as their strength–even though, according to the Berkley study, a young intern’s social class is more predictive of her online content production habits than is her age.

According to the New York Times, many unpaid internships are illegal, yet they’re mushrooming, particularly those marketed to affluent students.

No one keeps official count of how many paid and unpaid internships there are, but Lance Choy, director of the Career Development Center at Stanford University, sees definitive evidence that the number of unpaid internships is mushrooming – fueled by employers’ desire to hold down costs and students’ eagerness to gain experience for their résumés. Employers posted 643 unpaid internships on Stanford’s job board this academic year (author’s note: this refers to 2010), more than triple the 174 posted two years ago.

And where are the most desirable unpaid internships of all located?

The White House, of course. Applications opened this week for 2013 White House internships.

White House Internships are unpaid positions. Applicants are encouraged to contact educational and other non-profit organizations to apply for funding or housing assistance, but note that any outside income, funding or housing assistance you may receive as a White House intern must be pre-approved by the White House Counsel’s Office.   If you are selected as an intern, we will be in contact with you to review any outside funds you intend to receive.

In Colorado, many of our local candidates and elected officials hire talented young people and pay them something as close to a living wage as state-level candidates can afford while making what can hardly be called a “living wage” themselves.

Nationally, however, political firms and politicians are quite prone to offer the standard “experience and college credit” as compensation for hard work that may or may not qualify as a legal unpaid position under federal law.

Essentially, and most importantly, the employer should “derive no immediate advantage” from the intern’s work. That’s hardly a criterion I’ve seen applied to internships advertised to students in any collegiate institution I’ve attended! The above described White House internships might qualify–barely–but what of the numerous unpaid internships that have students fetching coffee, updating Twitter, arranging events, and more?

Students are hardly equipped to report these internships to enforcement agencies at a time when many in-demand entry level jobs are completely inaccessible to applicants without internship experience. Yet, unpaid internships are not an effective method of identifying and developing the best talent among passionate students. Rather, they identify and develop any talent that happens to be present among the students of a socioeconomic background enabling them to pursue a period of unpaid work.

All the while, a digital class divide appears to be widening throughout the social networking communities once heralded as a great equalizer. Sure, on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog:

But does it matter if you know whether or not your conversational partner is a dog, if she’s overwhelmingly statistically predisposed to be not only human, but also college educated and affluent?

“For the children” is perhaps the most frequently repeated of all contemporary political canards. (Or, perhaps second to questioning one’s opponent’s patriotism.)

Most recently, Rep. Walsh crashed and burned when nobly declaring his intention to heap “not one more dollar” of debt upon his kids or grandkids, all the while dodging his own child support obligation.

Is it any less egregious when a person or organization claims to have the best interests of the young at heart in offering a “prestigious internship opportunity,” but fails to pay students for work that does, indeed, provide an immediate benefit to the employer?

When young people earn, we save, invest, and spend. When we do those things, we secure our futures and stimulate the economy. By paying young people for their hard work, political employers can extend opportunity to students who otherwise would be forced to use their advanced studies to inform their work behind a fast food counter, rather than in the fast-paced and challenging world of politics.

By paying interns, employers can also free themselves to demand a high standard of work, and demand that interns’ work provide a tangible benefit to the employer. Furthermore, already competitive internships (and politicians are fond of reminding us of the benefits of competition in the marketplace!) would be made still more competitive by opening them up to students unable to accept unpaid work. Your most talented future intern may be a young person on her own, with no familial support to help her eat while working for free.

As a young professional and current college student, I call upon each and every politician who has ever claimed, or will ever claim, to work on behalf of the “next generation” or “our children” to commit to paying his or her interns. It’s a small investment in a brighter future for us all.  

FPE Candidates’ Debate?

As a nominee myself, I may live to regret this, but I’ve come to believe that if FPE elections are enough of a BFD for an infamous former Polster to try to sockpuppet his way to glory, and enough of a BFD for some nominees to actually campaign outside the site, they’re enough of a BFD for a debate.

Since there are few legitimate policy issues in this election, I suggest that candidates be required to respond creatively to all questions: Haiku, haibun, limericks, iambic pentameter, interpretive dance, photoshop, relevant tunes…?

Of course, I can’t be the moderator–not only am I on the ballot, I’m much too busy looking for c rork’s phone number in the record books of various disreputable Denver businesses and scheduling the press conference where I’ll deny any involvement with that nasty YouTube video accusing MOTR of pole dancing and highlighting nancycronk’s checkered past (did you know she served time in the PENALTY BOX, y’all?!) while pointing out that 20thMaine is really not much different from Maines 1 through 19.

Anyone willing to make a thread and award points? Obviously it’d have to be wrapped up before polls close.

HB 1063 Postponed Indefinitely by a Vote of 12-1: A Win for Colorado Communities

(Nicely done, PC. – promoted by Aristotle)

HB 1063, Wes McKinley’s bill to eliminate nonprofit cruelty investigators and transfer care costs for impounded animals to the agencies rescuing them, has been postponed indefinitely by a vote of twelve to one. This bill would have devastated animal welfare agencies statewide, and presented an unfunded mandate to local governments that came with a tab of at least $340,000 in training costs alone.

The bill’s failure represents a victory for Colorado’s families, pets, and communities. As I said in my previous diary, animal welfare is good for people and for Colorado. Healthy, well cared for pets and livestock are a benefit to our communities. Diseased, neglected, and potentially aggressive pets and livestock are not. Continuing to enforce our animal cruelty laws will keep our communities safe and healthy.

I was at the Capitol to participate in this hearing, but regrettably had to leave before the vote to get Mini Cowgirl, my niece, to bed on time. After taking care of the kiddo, I logged on to Pols and discovered the great news!

Congratulations to all who opposed this bill. Many Colorado animal welfare professionals spoke eloquently in opposition, despite some amount of badgering from Representatives McKinley and Coram. Chairman Sonnenberg did an admirable job of keeping the committee in line, stepping in repeatedly to redirect comments that were verging into statement territory rather than presenting questions to those giving testimony. A great deal of credit also goes to those behind SB 009, a moderate and animal welfare focused alternative that addresses many of the problems identified by Wes McKinley and acknowledged by animal welfare agencies throughout the state.

Every Coloradoan who loves his or her pets can go to bed tonight feeling secure in the knowledge that when you wake up tomorrow, the Denver Dumb Friends League, Larimer Humane Society, Boulder Valley Humane Society, and many others will still be available to investigate cases of cruelty and neglect in your neighborhood.

Wes McKinley to Colorado: You know what we need more of in this state? Cruelty to animals.

(We think she means it – promoted by Colorado Pols)

As a progressive cowgirl (it’s not just a username!) I never really expected to find myself furious with a Colorado Democrat who happens to have a ranching background. But here I am, posting my first diary, and it’s about Wes McKinley (D-Walsh), a rancher who has accomplished the difficult task of being fiscally irresponsible, soft on crime, hard on cops, outrageously tone-deaf, and quite possibly in lockstep with special interests, all in one little bill.

HB-1063, “Concerning Laws Related to Animal Welfare,” might as well be titled, “Just How Powerful a Constituency are Animal Abusers, Anyway?” The entire bill is a giveaway to people who would like to abuse and neglect pets and/or livestock in the state of Colorado. From the asshole on your block who won’t bring his dog inside when it’s twenty below zero to large-scale illegal puppy mills, anyone who mistreats domestic animals has something to gain should this bill pass.

The progressive cowgirl also happens to be a former pint-sized rescue worker who’s been along for the ride on a few cruelty investigations, so I’ll walk y’all through this legislation–and its impacts on you, your neighborhood, and your own family pets.

Let’s get something straight, right off the bat: Animal welfare laws aren’t animal rights laws. Cruelty to animals is a bad thing for our communities not because puppies and kitties are cute and huggable (well, that too), but because of the harm done to human beings by a permissive approach to animal abuse. What do you think happens to your home’s value when your neighbor has a yard full of starving dogs? And how do you think the rancher who beats his horses treats his wife? That latter question isn’t rhetorical–Colorado’s own Ed Perlmutter, my favorite Congressman, appeared in a BBC documentary exploring the proven and well-researched connection between mistreatment of animals and mistreatment of humans. (The transcript calls him “Pullmeta.” Damn Brits.)

Now, about HB-1063: The most publicized and most damaging thing about this legislation is that it completely removes nonprofit organizations’ authorization to investigate cruelty to animals. That means you can no longer call the Dumb Friends League if you see a starving dog. Instead, you can look forward to long hold times and enormous variability in expertise and responsiveness with municipal animal control services. Not only that, but expect higher dog licensing fees in all municipalities to subsidize a service currently being provided to the state free of charge by donation-funded, highly trained experts.

I’ve been along for the ride on cruelty investigations. The Dumb Friends League will not and cannot show up at your house to take your dog away because they don’t like you. Colorado’s animal cruelty laws define cruelty in a very specific way. If you’ve ever seen the television show “Animal Cops,” the ASPCA investigators in New York City play a similar role to the DDFL here–except our DDFL investigators actually have less power to seize animals.

The bottom line is: We’ve got free investigators with specialized training and expertise willing to help Colorado and its billion dollar budget deficit. McKinley wants to give them the pink slip and either abandon enforcement or pass its costs on to taxpayers.

There are several other nasty things in this bill, intended to disable rescue agencies and prevent our highly effective nonprofits from reducing cruelty to animals in Colorado by placing additional financial and procedural burdens on any nonprofit willing to care for impounded animals.

Section three of HB-1063 prevents impound agencies (that’s a rescue organization which takes on the burden of caring for an impounded animal pending a cruelty investigation–an animal which, under this legislation, the rescue organization would not have had any involvement in choosing to seize) from recovering their expenses for the care of the animal from its owner unless the owner is convicted of specific animal cruelty offenses. So if an animal owner abuses a pet and the Dumb Friends League pays for expensive vet care to save it, they may then be required to return the animal to the abuser and absorb all costs incurred if the abuser gets a plea deal that involves pleading guilty to a lesser offense.

As an interesting note, a later section of the bill provides for the stripping of an Animal Control officer’s commission if the officer pleads nolo contendre (no contest) to any charge of “moral turpitude.” But in the case of impoundment and costs of animal care, only a conviction counts–it’s okay to plead no contest to animal cruelty and get your pets back, with all costs of their care landing squarely on an overburdened nonprofit.

In Section 11, owners judged to be capable of providing for an animal that has been impounded, as well as fit to care for it, get their animals back free of charge–the requirement that they reimburse the impounding agency for costs of care is repealed. That goes for convicted animal abusers who make a deal to get some of their animals back, too.

Cruelty investigations and trials can drag on for months or years. Meanwhile, the agency caring for the animals seized can’t adopt them out and can’t euthanize them, unless it’s to relieve specific types of suffering or because they’re dangerous to humans. The rescue agency caring for impounded animals may in some cases receive a small stipend from the county, but will absorb additional costs, often including steep veterinary expenses.

Then–and I’ve seen this personally on more than a few occasions–all too often, a deal is struck where the suspect is convicted but the judge does not order forfeiture of his or her animals. If this bill passes, they get the animals back (again, even if CONVICTED of abusing them) without reimbursing the organization that has cared for them for any portion of costs incurred.

There are other ugly things in this bill, but this diary is getting long and vituperative already, so I’ll leave you with this:

Right now, an animal can be seized if “adequate veterinary care” is not provided. If you walk your dog and see someone else’s pet in their yard that obviously has a contagious, untreated disease, today you could call the Denver Dumb Friends League. They would investigate, and if indeed seriously ill without treatment, the animal could be removed from your neighborhood and treated.

If McKinley gets his way, you’ll be waiting on hold with an overburdened animal control department. You, a law-abiding citizen, will have paid a hefty dog license fee for this privilege, since the department isn’t getting free help anymore. If after a few weeks of waiting for an ACO to show up the dog is still alive, it might be removed and impounded at your local shelter, which will pay for its veterinary care. A few months later, your neighbor may well get the dog back to continue refusing to vaccinate it, endangering your family and pets, and your local animal shelter will be stuck with the bill for nursing it back to health.