Ever Wonder Why Washington Elites Are So Out Of Touch? Because They Keep People Like Us Out Of The Bubble

In the last few weeks, I must have read over a dozen pieces attacking the movie "Eat Pray Love" and the book version, too, calling author Liz Gilbert a no-talent hack. (After the reviewers admit they never actually read the book -- they just read the other reviews.) But the most interesting thing to me was how vehemently they dismissed Gilbert as a "white woman of privilege." Because I think it's great when a writer is making a decent living, as Gilbert obviously is. Why does her success disturb so many others? I'm rather sensitive to class issues, and it doesn't bother me at all.

If you really want to talk about privilege, well, I'm a lot more disturbed by articles like this. Because if you ever wonder why the Washington elite is so very, very out of touch with the rest of our lives, it just might be because there's a huge class moat built around the District of Columbia that makes sure only the right people get on the career track that allows them into the bubble:

Each year, thousands of college students descend on Washington for unpaid internships. It can be a nerve-racking process: sending out résumés, trying to make contacts, interviewing again and again.

Increasingly, many of them are finding an alternative: paying thousands of dollars to a placement company for a guaranteed spot.

It's a business just starting to appear in other cities. In Washington, it's been thriving for years.

Estimates of the annual number of interns locally range from 20,000 to 40,000. The placement programs provide about 2,500 of these interns, with the number growing each year.

For their money -- often funded with taxpayer-subsidized loans -- students get an internship, housing, night classes, tours of Washington and college credit. But most say they sign up for the work experience.

"I wanted experience. I was worried about graduating and not getting a job," said Brian Schiller, 21, a soon-to-be college senior from Sherborn, Mass., who interned at an executive search firm this summer through the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. "I needed an internship, and they found me one."

[...] Those involved routinely point out that the programs cost less than some colleges charge for tuition. And as long as students receive academic credit, they are usually able to pay using their student loans, federal Pell grants or other forms of financial aid. Most companies offer scholarships, some funded by state governments, some by the companies.

Emily Goyert, 21, and her parents debated her decision to get an internship through the Fund for American Studies. She was unable to transfer any credits to the University of Michigan, where she will be a senior.

"We definitely just viewed it as an investment in my future," said Goyert, who interned at the Living Classrooms Foundation and created a weekend program for a D.C. neighborhood. "There are only so many internships, and everyone wants one."

The tuition payments add up to millions of dollars of revenue for the internship programs, many of which operate as nonprofit groups, pay their top employees six-figure salaries and set up shop in prime D.C. real estate.


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