While in Iowa, Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg rolled out plans to help rural America. In one section, Buttigieg describes how he would increase internships among “students from underrepresented backgrounds.” The plan approaches affirmative action for internships based on governmentally protected classes to include “rural” and “minority” applicants.
Under a Buttigieg presidential administration, the plan says, companies would get a tax deduction for hiring interns who live in rural or “underserved” areas. These internships are also required to pay “at least the minimum wage” and last up to three months.
The full text from the plan reads:
Increase access to Internships for All. Career development opportunities like internships both improve students’ attractiveness to employers and also allow students to apply classroom learning and begin to build professional networks. However, many students in underserved communities lack access to these opportunities. The vast majority of internships are in wealthy urban centers, and white high school students are nearly twice as likely to be involved in a career development opportunity as minority students. To encourage companies to offer paid internships to students from underrepresented backgrounds who normally may not have access to them, Pete’s Administration will allow companies an extra tax deduction for 50% of the cost of interns who live in rural and other underserved areas and who are current or recent students. These internships will pay at least the minimum wage, be approved by the Department of Labor with amount limitations and abuse protections, and last up to three months.
Buttigieg’s plan to require companies to pay interns the minimum wage if they want federal tax breaks is not a new one. Socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has been calling on Congress to force all businesses to pay interns the minimum wage while raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. She claims that “experience doesn’t pay the bills.”
Today I was asked why we should bother paying interns if they’re “getting experience for their résumé.”
Here’s what we have say about that: pic.twitter.com/vbHoMTLDI3
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 25, 2019
Stuart Taylor Jr., is an author and journalist who focuses on legal and policy issues. He co-authored the book “Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help and Why Universities Won’t Admit It.” Taylor explains that Buttigieg’s program may teeter towards unconstitutional territory.
The references to ‘underserved areas’ and ‘white high school students’ suggest that some internship opportunities might be allocated on the basis of applicants’ ZIP codes or the like, in part for the purpose of channeling more internships to minority-race students. To the extent that that is the objective, it seems unlikely to raise serious constitutional problems, by analogy to various other, longstanding efforts to use indirect means to channel more opportunities to members of minority races.
A plan that directly allocated internship opportunities on the basis of race, on the other hand, might well be struck down as unconstitutional by the courts. Although the Supreme Court has so far upheld by very narrow margins overt racial preferences in university admissions, it has not suggested that it would uphold overt racial preferences in the job market.
From the plan text, it appears Buttigieg’s plan would also aim to pressure companies to accept larger numbers of nonwhite people for internships. Since, according to the Housing Assistance Council, 77.8 percent of rural and small town Americans are white, it seems the Buttigieg campaign is trying to appease people of different racial groups by tossing what appears to be something for everyone into the pot.
If access to urban areas is the real barrier to gaining internship opportunities, a smarter plan would be to give a tax deduction to businesses that open a location in rural areas. The totality of Buttigieg’s plan to unleash “the potential of rural America” can be found here.