"Everybody told me you can't get a job on (Capitol) Hill unless you're an unpaid intern," he said. "The more I looked, I saw it was an incredibly widespread practice."
His allies include University of Nevada-Las Vegas student Jessica Padron, who is trying to defray the $6,500 costs of a four-month Washington internship for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with a crowd-sourced online fundraising campaign. At New York University, a petition drive asks the school to remove unpaid internship listings offered by for-profit businesses. More volunteers are pitching in, he said, although he declined to provide specifics about the campaign's finances.
A recent survey reported that 63 percent of graduating college seniors this year had an internship, the highest level since polling began six years ago. Nearly half the internships were unpaid. The expansion of internships comes as President Barack Obama and Congress have been emphasizing the problem of growing student debt.
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act sets out a six-part test to determine whether an internship can be unpaid. The internship must be similar to "training which would be given in an educational environment," run primarily for the intern's benefit and involve work that doesn't replace that of paid employees.