Temple student to lobby city officials to pay interns in city departments

Jordan Laslett, a senior political science major, worked closely with the program’s unpaid interns, which inspired him to advocate for a paying internship program.

Senior political science major Jordan Laslett, advocating for fair compensation for interns, delivers the closing remarks on Thursday at the Innovation Lab in the Municipal Services Building. | LUKE SMITH / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Jordan Laslett is determined to get the city’s interns paid.

This summer, the senior political science major worked with college students in the Mayor’s Internship Program, a nine-week long, unpaid internship working for the city’s staff.

Laslett, a paid summer associate for AmeriCorps VISTA, felt bad that he worked with the city’s interns who were not being paid. AmeriCorps VISTA, a national service program working to eliminate poverty, is run by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency.

“I asked them if this was something that they felt they were willing to kind of start a little bit of trouble about within the city,” Laslett said.

The interns who worked with Laslett put together a survey for the interns to respond to about their experiences with the unpaid internship and if they had any financial struggles this summer.

“All of them were very passionate about the struggles that they went through,” Laslett said about the 35 interns who responded. “Whether it’s not having enough money for travel or having to work an extra fifteen hours a week to afford the program.”

Gianna Grossmann, the manager of the Mayor’s Internship Program, invited Laslett to present the results at the intern’s group presentations in the Municipal Services Building on Aug. 10. Mayor Jim Kenney delivered remarks at the beginning of the presentation.

“As I was speaking to the room full of interns and their supervisors I could tell that they were in complete support and even slightly shocked by what I was presenting,” Laslett, who spoke at the end of the presentation, wrote in an email to The Temple News. “I don’t think they were expecting me to be as blunt as I was regarding the city’s internship policy.”

Some interns read anonymous statements about the program’s lack of financial support, he added.

The presentation showed how many interns commuted to work, received a stipend, worked a second job and how many interns considered not taking the internship because it was unpaid.

“Interns put in just as much work, and they want to be there,” Laslett said. “But sometimes it’s just not as financially feasible, especially in an economy that is consistently an uphill battle for younger people to get the edge on.”

In 2012, USA Today reported Ross Perlin, author of “Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy,” said 1.5 million internships are held in the United States each year, and about half of them are unpaid.

According to a 2013 student survey report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a non-profit professional association, about 62 percent of unpaid internships that year were from a government employer or non-profit.

As students are struggling to afford basic needs, and at Temple where one-third of students are food insecurity, according to a study from Higher Education professor Sara Goldrick-Rab, they are left trying to navigate the financial challenges of taking an unpaid internship.

Isaac Santiago, a senior political science major, worked for the code enforcement unit in the city’s law department during the city’s Internship Program this summer.

Senior political science major Isaac Santiago delivers a group presentation at the Municipal Services Building’s Innovation Lab on August 10. Santiago was one of several Temple students to participate in the Mayor’s Internship Program. | LUKE SMITH / THE TEMPLE NEWS

During the Mayor’s internship, he continued working at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for nearly six-hour shifts Monday through Friday as an environmental service agent.

“If the program was paid, I would have been able to maybe take off from my other job a little better,” he said.

Deneya Gadson, a junior criminal justice major, was awarded a $2,000 stipend from the College of Liberal Arts to help her financially during the summer.

Gadson said networking and her passion for public service made up for not being paid.

“I think without the stipend, I don’t know how I financially would have made it through the summer,” said Gadson, who worked in the Mayor’s Office of Reintegration Services (RISE). “Because you have to get transportation, you have to get lunch and you have other personal responsibilities.”

“It’s the people that we’re worried about who are disenfranchised the people and the talent that is consistently overlooked based upon economic barriers,” Laslett said.

Next, Laslett plans to lobby the Mayor’s Office and Philadelphia City Council for the Mayor’s Internship Program to be paid.

“I’m willing to do really anything I possibly can to raise awareness about the struggle of being an unpaid intern in Philadelphia,” Laslett said. “The fact that a progressive city isn’t paying its interns is absurd.”

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