Congressional Democrats Tim Ryan and Jan Schakowsky have pledged to live on $77 weekly budget as part of "Live the Wage" channel designed to draw attention to the minimum wage. However, critics say that if the Democrats really wanted to understand the plight of the common man, they should live on the wage their interns are paid: $0 per week.
"Reps. Ryan and Schakowsky (of this week’s Live The Wage stunt) have interns in their office who are ‘living the wage’ as part of their day-to-day existence, because they don’t pay them," said Michael Saltsman, research director for the Employment Policies Institute (EPI).
Schakowsky and Ryan celebrated their seven-day sacrifice in a press release announcing the start of the Live the Wage challenge, which is sponsored by more than 60 liberal interest groups, labor unions, and campaign apparatuses, such as Organizing for Action.
"My family and I are ready to begin the Minimum Wage Challenge. Every day hard working Americans still struggle to make ends meet, and this challenge will give me an opportunity to walk in their shoes, although nothing could ever give me a full perspective of the hardships these men and women endure on a daily basis," Ryan said in a statement. "I urge all my colleagues on both side [sic] of the aisle to join me in the challenge and get a small glimpse of what life is like for those living on minimum wage."
"My husband and I are taking the Living Wage Challenge this week in solidarity with hard-working families who are trying to make ends meet," Schakowsky said in the same release. "Through this effort I believe what is clear to many business owners, employees and economists should finally resonate with House Republicans—it is time to give America a raise by increasing the minimum wage and getting millions of American families closer to a living wage."
Capitol Hill interns, including those working for proponents of a wage hike, are paid nowhere near the living wage. A 2013 EPI study found that 97 percent of Democrats who back the $10.10 minimum wage employ unpaid workers.
Congressman Ryan is not shy about the hard-driving work environment for his unpaid workers. Rather than offering the $7.25 federal minimum wage for these workers, he offers "unique opportunities for you to gain an insider's view of the legislative process." They are expected to put in 25 to 40 hours per week, leaving little room for the free labor to seek a paid second job.
"We want the internship experience to provide intellectual challenge beyond typical intern duties and are looking for proactive individuals who will make the most of their experience," Ryan says on his website.
Internships can be exempt from minimum wage and overtime statutes only if they are "similar to training which would be given in an educational environment" and are set up "for the benefit of the intern," according to Department of Labor regulations. Ryan’s job description is very similar to paid Capitol Hill positions, according to veteran Hill staffers who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.
"Interns play an important role in our offices. Duties include helping with general office work such as answering phones, opening mail, and sending faxes, and interns help communicate with constituents and handle basic constituent requests. In addition, we encourage interns to attend hearings, briefings, bill markups, and press conferences," Ryan says.
"The word you’re looking for is hypocrisy," a former intern told the Washington Free Beacon.