Are unpaid college internships fair?

It’s been a while since my last post here on AMERICAblog and, if you’re wondering where I’ve been, my time was well-spent  interning at a non-profit in Washington, D.C. for a cause I believe in.

I had engaging work to do, learned a ton and helped my organization make tangible progress towards furthering our cause. My summer was a raging success.

But my internship came with an ethical issue unrelated to the work I was doing: I worked for free for three months… in Washington, D.C… with significant financial help from my parents.

Unpaid internships have become a sexy institution for progressives to rail against recently, with outrage embodied in lawsuits, court rulings and even an organization, the Fair Pay Campaign, dedicated to ending the practice. And they have a point: If you are doing staff-level work, shouldn’t you be entitled to staff-level compensation? Moreover, if you’re serious about the need for a minimum wage, isn’t it incredibly hypocritical to take advantage of free labor?

intern

Intern via Shutterstock

Absolutely. However, outside of the private sector, there’s a better solution than the blanket ban that many advocate. Ending unpaid internships altogether comes with the nasty side-effect of, well, ending unpaid internships altogether. At a societal level, we want these opportunities to exist, both for our young workers and for the institutions that benefit from them that, in many cases, are doing tremendously good work.

Banning unpaid internships altogether throws the baby out with the bathwater; rather than mandating that governments, non-profits and NGOs pay their interns, we should set aside funding for need-based aid the way we currently do for student loans.

Here’s why:

By definition, unpaid interns don’t need the money

Minimum wages are desirable because they help society create a floor of economic well-being. For most unpaid interns – myself included – that floor of economic well-being is provided by their parents; they don’t need minimum wages to support themselves.

I have little sympathy for people with means equal to or greater than my own, fully aware at the time that they were agreeing to work for free, who decide after the fact that they deserve back-pay that they do not need. And the courts, so far, agree with me: the few successful lawsuits concerning unpaid internships have been filed by plaintiffs who interned after they had left college and entered the workforce. They won their cases because they weren’t student-y enough to fit the Department of Labor’s definition of “intern.”

Lawsuits aside, there’s an even larger moral issue surrounding unpaid interns’ work: students who are seeking restitution in the form of back-pay could afford to work for free in the first place. And because they could afford to work for free, they created barriers to entry for scores of otherwise-qualified students and recent graduates who don’t have their parents to lean on for financial support as they enter the professional world.

Unpaid internships aren’t unfair to the interns; they’re unfair to the people who can’t afford to apply for them.

The problem isn’t that the opportunities are bad (they’re incredible), it’s that access to said opportunities is absurdly unequal.

Especially in Washington, a lot of unpaid interns aren’t worth minimum wage

Being a still-in-college D.C. intern, I inevitably came across, well, a lot of D.C. interns this summer. And every single congressional intern that I came across spent their summer bored as hell. And it wasn’t just because Congress isn’t passing any bills. It seemed that a lot of congressional offices have so many interns that there are too many to fill the traditional intern roles of phone-answerer, coffee-retriever and tour-giver. Because of this, they were also expert Buzzfeed-browsers, lunch-marathoners and networking extraordinaires.

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To be sure, they did get to, on occasion, do interesting research on pending legislation – and answering phones, Xeroxing and giving tours for a couple of hours is far from nothing - but paying interns minimum wage means having interns who produce minimum-wage level work. Under present conditions, the average intern simply doesn’t have enough work to make that viable, and it would be unreasonable to expect governments and non-profits to pay their interns more than they’re worth.

But it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect the government to invest in students who need financial help to realize their potential. After all, it already does that. While a given organization is only willing to lose money in the short term to train a worker, if it is planning on that worker sticking around, and producing value, in the long term, governments can reasonably assume that they’ll be interacting with any given student over the long haul in terms of tax revenue and externalities associated with that student’s success in life. Because of this, the government gains more by subsidizing the internship of a promising student than whichever organization they work for does.

Internships are the new college educations

Economists use two different languages to explain the value derived from a college diploma: Human Capital Theory and Signaling Theory.

To give a short run-down of each: Human Capital Theory argues that there is value in education; the skills you gain in college (writing, critical thinking, time management, etc.) make you more productive and therefore more valuable.

Signaling theory holds that a diploma’s value lies in the diploma itself; college graduates are valuable because they have demonstrated that they are the kinds of people who can meet deadlines, show up to work on time and have reasonably long attention spans. In either case, the data clearly show that a college education increases lifetime earnings significantly.

The share of Americans with college degrees has risen nearly six-fold since 1940 – from five percent to 28 percent. And opening doors for more people means that some of those doors get crowded. Across the country, the narrative being hammered into college students’ minds is that in order to stand out, simply having a four-year degree doesn’t cut it anymore. A college education alone is no longer a strong enough “signal” to send an employer, and the classes you take are no longer considered adequate preparation for a career. To set yourself apart from your peers you have to “use your summers well”, which is code for having to take prestigious internships that pay in networks instead of wages.

In the context of my summer, not only did I learn new skills that made me far more valuable as an employee than I would otherwise have been if I had stayed home and worked at a swimming pool, but I also demonstrated that I can work professionally in an office setting. In other words, in the context of both Human Capital and Signaling Theories, I made myself very employable.

But, going back to my first point – I did so at the expense of others. My ability to leverage my college years into gainful post-graduate employment has depended greatly on my family’s ability to subsidize my summers, effectively paying for me to intern. I essentially outbid my less-fortunate peers who couldn’t afford to forego earning a paycheck this summer.

If the summer internship is the new value-adding mechanism for young Americans, then maybe it’s time to expand access accordingly. Why not use the same means-tested policies already in place for college financial aid to make summer internships accessible to everyone who’s qualified?

Those who object to unpaid internships rightly seek to reduce inequality and expand opportunity, but banning the practice reduces both inequality and opportunity. If internships are increasingly viewed by employers as extensions of college, it’s time we treated them accordingly and expanded access to all who are qualified, not just those who can pay.


Jon Green is a graduate of Kenyon College with a degree in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. A veteran of the campaigns of Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and President Obama in 2012, he writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @JonGreen8, and on Google+. .

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  • perljammer

    You are absolutely right; there is a HUGE difference. Which is why it’s usually bad practice to make unqualified generalizations on almost any subject.

  • Rob Dowdy

    They have to make sure to keep their employees eligible for government assistance. If they pay them enough to live on they don’t get to keep their obscene profits every quarter. If they pay the employees too much for them to be eligible for welfare they may become homeless.

    It’s a delicate balance, maintaining such a large workforce in utter powerlessness and dependence, but also making sure they don’t get too stinky and unkempt looking from living on a bench in the park.

    I just keep waiting for Wal-Mart to start building worker dorms next to their super centers. The rent will be quite reasonable, I’m sure. Why, they’ll just deduct it right from your paycheck …

  • Rob Dowdy

    Yes, my brother-in-law just turned 24. He’s teaching high school level science right now. He’s one of the most driven and conscientious people I know.

    My partner is an instructional designer for a healthcare IT company and helped him get into a really good ID graduate program but even with tuition assistance it’s all very expensive.

    He’s working full time and taking as heavy a course load as he can stand. I suppose if he picked up a coke habit and stopped sleeping he could get another job …

    Anyway, he’s taking the ID route and going into corporate education because his brief stint in what passes for our public education system has just about broken his heart. He’s so young and wants to do so much, like many young teachers. Then he got there and the reality of being a teacher in a country that doesn’t give a crap about teachers walloped him upside the head.

    He really struggled with the decision and in the end the system will end up losing an amazing teacher.

  • Rob Dowdy

    “You learn anything today, boy?”

    “I sure did, sir!”

    “Good. Good. When you finish the dishes go pick up my dry cleaning.”

  • Rob Dowdy

    I understand.

    Just out of curiosity, did you have to consult anyone before changing the definitions of “all” and “only”?

  • ComradeRutherford

    I was working for poor people trying to get a project made on nothing. That is a HUGE difference from working for a multi-million dollar corporation that is exploiting Free Labor because they can get away with it.

  • perljammer

    But “all Free Labor is unfair!” Were you a far-right Conservative in your 20s?

    Just kidding, Comrade. I couldn’t resist; sorry. I think working for free is fine, if that’s what the individual wants to do. Certainly a lot of charitable organizations depend on volunteer workers. And people who want the experience and can afford to forgo being paid should be able to do so, as I’m guessing you did on those low-budget films.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    I’m sure it is nothing they couldn’t just make up, if asked. While the intern gets to do gopher work, without much real job training. As if just being near people doing the job field they want to enter is enough.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    That’s what most people think of when they think intern, but it arises in many forms. That is definitely a better form than others, but I still believe anyone doing actual work should be compensated beyond simply job-place training. Most every job requires training. If you applied to McDonald’s you would be paid for your time spent training. It doesn’t make sense that such a thing doesn’t apply in all fields.

  • ComradeRutherford

    I worked for free on a number of movies when I was in my 20s, but those were all low-budget films, not for major studios.

  • perljammer

    Can you cite the ruling, or at least describe it and the way in which the landscape has been changed?

  • perljammer

    Right. My perception is, there are so many kids who want to “break into” the industry, that the studios have no trouble picking up unpaid help. This site (http://www.entertainmentcareers.net/jcat.asp?jcat=114) lists over 1000 intern positions. I looked at about a dozen of the listings; they were all unpaid positions. Some of them require the applicant to supply their own computer or other equipment/tools for on-the-job use.

  • ronbo

    A recent court ruling has changed the landscape.

  • ronbo

    In a word “no”. Taking advantage of our labor depression and the 44,000,000 Americans who are not working (at all or only part-time) now, but were working in 2007, is just plain wrong. Government internships don’t lead to government jobs – except for family members of the politicians. Wikileaks says that less than 2% of unpaid interns get the job.

    Exploitation isn’t right.

    Contact Representative Vicky Hartzler who is currently seeking a slave herself. (202) 225-2876 Ooops…sorry, slaves were actually fed; Vicky doesn’t believe in providing lunch. She condemned slavery BECAUSE it was a “free lunch”. /snark

  • ComradeRutherford

    Your attempt to mix fruits, say apples and oranges, in your ‘argument’ is nonsensical. You are deliberately mixing ‘interns’ and ‘volunteers’ to avoid the question.

    How many of the volunteers you list are hoping to move up to paid jobs in that organization?
    How many of the organizations you listed as having volunteers are fabulously wealthy and could afford to pay those volunteers?
    How many of those organizations you listed are eagerly exploiting their volunteers so that they can post record profits and pay their executives even more?

    The answer to all is NONE.

    There is a vast difference between knowingly volunteering for a good cause versus being lied to and exploited by an obscenely rich corporation for it’s personal gain.

    Your pedantry is not needed.

  • ComradeRutherford

    Ah, good point! Clearly the poor film industry is having hard times and can’t afford to pay.

  • Strepsi

    I am sorry, I was unclear. I do not use interns instead of employees — or have interns working for free after they are in school. I only participate in an IN-SCHOOL internship program with a local college, whose internship is part of their school year and curriculum, and course load, for credits, including my own training and evaluation of them. I have hired upon their graduation.

  • Phil

    The schools, or more specifically, the departments within the schools. Anything beyond graduation becomes a Dept. of Labor issue of unpaid work subject to stiff penalties for the firms involved – no loopholes allowed. You work, you get paid, even at a nonprofit. I’m not even sure lobbyists need to be involved. Maybe ironclad rules issued by the Dept. of Labor. And the whole thing about long lunches and not doing much ends too. That is definitely not preparation for the real world!

    If a student wants to work at a firm unpaid, he/she gets no academic credit for that. Schools need to step up to the plate on this unless they plan to start conferring degrees in being a patsy/chump.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Completely agree!

  • Rob Dowdy

    Who will design the regulatory language? And who will stop the lobbyists from buying a few loopholes wide enough to fly a flock of Dreamliners through?

  • Rob Dowdy

    I know! Think of all the evil organizations that exploit ‘Free Labor’ to unfairly demand that people:

    Drive old people to the grocery store or just sit with them and let them talk so they don’t feel so isolated
    Deliver meals on wheels
    Care for the pets of those who are stationed abroad
    Canvas for politicians and other causes (food drives, children’s charities, etc.)
    Help with yard work and home repairs when people are down on their luck, ill, etc.
    Provide crisis counseling for those considering suicide and the victims of personal tragedy or abuse, rape, and assorted other violent crimes
    Host workshops designed to help those with disabilities find jobs and live fuller, more productive lives
    Sign up for the National Guard so that you can chip in if there’s a natural disaster

    I could go on for some time listing such atrocities, but I think you see my point. I’m not a fan of absolutism and broad generalization, I guess is what I’m saying.

    I happen to believe that not paying interns is wrong, by the way, but what you posted had little to do with that topic.

  • Rob Dowdy

    Training provided to an employee is an investment in the future of your company. Training provided to an intern is an investment in someone else’s company because you’re barely going to say hello to them before they’re out the door and gone. Might they come back and work for you later? Maybe. Who knows. Maybe they’ll take what you taught them and go make a lot of money for your arch nemesis across the street.

    What’s the business incentive to pay extra for that process? I’m not being argumentative, I’m genuinely curious.

    I am not saying I think unpaid internships are awesome or right or desirable (I don’t), I am just trying to figure out what it is everyone thinks we’re going to replace them with that’s better for the interns yet still encourages employers to offer internships.

  • kurtsteinbach

    Lead by example, I always say. Good anecdotal evidence. This is what the Internet is for.

  • kurtsteinbach

    I remember, when I was a kid, well under half of employees were part time, and most of those were teens and college students. Now, more than half of PT employees are over 25 and work not 20 hours or so per week, but almost 30 hours per week and are expected to produce as much or almost as much as their FT counterparts. We should make it illegal to have more than half of a businesses employees PT except maybe for small businesses and training for seasonal workers….

  • Phil

    Sounds like the draft, minus the military component.

  • kurtsteinbach

    Yes, but that is the way many big businesses wanted things. It is early 20th century, Depression Era, “pay your dues thinking.” You remember the Depression when you could pay rent, food, and still have little left over for a night at the movies for less than $5 per week. Big Business wanted and pushed during the 30s, 40, and 50s for those “internships,” and called it, “paying your dues.” Well this is the 21st century, and you cannot borrow $20 from mom and dad and live on that anymore. The unpaid internship is obsolete and needs to go….

  • kurtsteinbach

    Most businesses provide training to employees, so that is an invalid argument. Even a new employee with several years of experience is trained at as a new hire at a company beyond “orientation”. Training and learning new skills is a part of life and should be a vital part of every business, not just the employees responsibility to learn, but the employers responsibility to provide new skills and learning; otherwise, employees and businesses bog down, stagnate, decay, and become obsolete. It is happening in this country. We are doing things in a 20th century manner still, which is why we re being left behind as the rest of the world moves into 21st century ways of thinking and doing things….

  • kurtsteinbach

    Teaching. The entertainment industry, you mean Hollywood? Look, even doctors have paid residency…. Many college and universities have a maximum of Financial Aid per year and semester minus housing minus tuition. The student gets the reminder to live on, but this forces students to incur much more debt. Is that really something we should be doing? Internships should be paid or at least compensated with living cost stipends.

  • kurtsteinbach

    I agree. I got through my student teaching while living in student housing and on student loans. We were not allowed to have jobs outside ST’ing that semester. It increased my student loan debt by about $5-10K and would have been less but for low tuition and only a few books to buy for the semester. Yes we still had textbooks to buy….

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    That’s Wal*Mart’s business model.

  • perljammer

    Unpaid internships are quite common in the film and television industries. Not exactly bastions of far right conservatism.

  • MrBoots

    Been there. I taught HS English for 36 years and as much as I loved the job, I retired because I couldn’t keep up with grading the writing assignments.

  • Phil

    “…traditional intern roles of phone-answerer, coffee-retriever and tour-giver…”

    The purpose of an internship is to give someone on the job experience. How does the above give anyone that, unless they’re planning to work at a restaurant or as a tour-guide? Anyplace I’ve worked, interns were paid, and were actually doing relevant work, albeit at a lower level of productivity/knowledge than our full timers. They were also paid. Not minimum wage but considerably less than our entry level employees. It was a win/win situation: 1) the interns gained valuable real world experience, 2) the company benefited from having someone who while not performing at the level expected of its employees did bring rudimentary skills to the table, which was useful, especially when so many staffers were on vacation, 3) the money the interns earned over the summer helped with their educational expenses, many were locals or found a place locally to stay for the summer such as with relatives, or even renting subleted housing from local students over the summer when it would normally sit empty.

  • http://poodyheads.wordpress.com/ zorbear

    and don’t forget part-time workers and employers that hire fewer than “x” number of employees…

  • Rob Dowdy

    My mom and my sister and her boyfriend are all teachers. The amount of unpaid time and unreimbursed money they have to put into their jobs just so they can go home and sleep at night without feeling they are failing the kids is disgusting. The entire industry is broken.

  • ComradeRutherford

    All ‘Free Labor’ is unfair. Only far-right Conservatives believe people should not be paid for their work.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    My assistant teaching was paid, all three years of it and that included a complete paid scholarship. I think it should be mandatory to encourage student teachers with professional practice, scholarships and grants. Without them I would never have been able to achieve graduate degrees.

  • MrBoots

    After reading so many articles on this topic, I have to make mention of one of the most prevalent unpaid internships: student teaching. Not only do the student teachers work for free, but have to pay for 6-9 credits to student teach and have an adjunct instructor observe them 2-3 times. The cooperating teacher actually gets paid with a 3-6 credit voucher which is most often sold for a cash discount to younger teachers who still need graduate credits to satisfy minimum licensing requirements.

  • perljammer

    In my line of work (engineering), I have never encountered an unpaid intern (although I won’t deny the possibility that such might exist somewhere). The company I work for pays summer interns quite well; not as much as the starting salary for a full-time diplomaed engineer, but still generously. If we didn’t pay well, the interns would go to our competitors — it’s really as simple as that. The interns that turn in a great performance get invited back for subsequent summers, and generally will receive an offer for a full-time position when they graduate.

    I have heard that unpaid internships are common in the entertainment industry. Where else is this curious practice the norm?

  • Rob Dowdy

    They do exist. He made me a better boss in my own right, that’s for sure.

  • Rob Dowdy

    That’s not really true.

    That’s like saying pirate movie downloads rob massive amounts of money from movie studios. The assertion makes sense on its face, but even the smallest amount of deeper consideration reveals the illogic: say a movie is downloaded 1,000 times. The studio is going to do simple math (1,000 X $19.95 per DVD) and say they lost $20,000 to piracy.

    The problem is that their initial assumption is obviously and fatally flawed: the percentage of those 1,000 pirates who downloaded the movie who would have otherwise bought the movie is not 100. Absent the availability of the pirated copy a huge number of them would simply pass on it altogether.

    The same logic holds here. Say you have 1,000 companies providing internships, or “jobs” that could go to the unemployed. That’s 1,000 jobs stolen from the unemployed, right? No, because only a tiny fraction of those employers would actually bring another person on if there were no interns, and making internships paid would first and foremost drastically reduce the overall number of internships being offered.

    That sounds bad on the surface, but it would actually clean the system up pretty efficiently since most of the internships that would initially vanish would be the worthless, exploitative kind.

  • Rob Dowdy

    They would argue that the resources they are expending on training and providing what is essentially a type of free hands-on lab time is costing the business capital, which is balanced by the work the intern does, which is generally deemed to be of less usefulness and value than what you’d get from a “real” employee. It’s all supposed to total out to zero, and in a lot of cases it probably more or less does.

    But it doesn’t take much Googling to find horror stories about predatory employers gaming the system to exploit interns, either.

    The system seems to be built on the premise that it’ll work just fine and everyone will be happy as long as no one abuses it, but there aren’t really any checks and balances to keep the abuse from happening.

    Many people seem to think bad internships are some sort of rite of passage, something you endure and then (presumably) laugh about later on. Like hazing, maybe: “I survived it, so will you.”

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    That was a good boss you had there.

  • Rob Dowdy

    I was a hiring manager for several years prior to moving to Australia and more than once we toyed with the notion of bringing on an intern, but in the end we didn’t do it because the big boss and I sat down and really hashed it out. What we decided was, more or less, that our main motivation for wanting to do it was selfish and that the equation would balance out in our favor 9 days out of 10, which is just exploitation.

    He was a really good guy, amazing to work with, shrewd and calculating but always very ethical, even in dealing with his competitors.

    I think a lot of big bosses out there are much less so.

  • benb

    Seems to me that if an unpaid intern is doing many of the same tasks as a regular employee, then the employer ought to be responsible for paying taxes on the benefit it derives from that intern.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    I’m a small business owner as well, and have never even considered not paying my employees the going local wage rates. I find the very idea of someone doing work for me without being compensated to be objectionable, because I know if I was that employee, I’d feel like I was being taken advantage of. Skills training in itself is not compensation. Really though, that’s why wages are generally commensurate with responsibility level, experience, and training. A new hire that I have to train is always going to make less than someone I have worked with for years, and have a certain level of expectation from.

    Training costs are a heavy expense for any business, and far too many companies are using unpaid interns simply as a way of weeding out the undesirables, at as little cost as possible. Or getting in with an educational institution to get hiring preferences before competitor companies.

    But, personally, if new hires coming out of schools are unhireable or otherwise ill-prepared for the workforce, that isn’t a failure of employers, that is a failure of the education system. Students can memorize all the books in the world, but if they’re not actually being taught workforce-desirable skills, and how to put those skills to practical use, it seems like a pretty huge waste. The very idea that someone has to spend tens of thousands of dollars for an education (if not more, depending on field of study), and then work for free for a time, to be deemed hireable, is revolting to me. I worked as a low-paid intern starting in high school. It’s probably the only reason I was able to afford to continue my education, since I didn’t qualify for student loans and never applied myself in any particular area enough to get scholarships. But I saw it as something much better for me in the long term than a summer fast-food job that many kids went for.

  • Strepsi

    As a very small business owner, I disagree strongly — and small businesses get lost in the “corporate fat cats vs. unionized workforce” debates, at least here in Canada. All my staff were once interns, and I have only hired from interns. Per Jon’s 2nd point in this article, 98% of the students who I have seen over the years are unhireable (or would be fired within 6 months) if they entered the workforce directly. I lose money training my interns in our program, but my goal is that all the students who complete the program are workforce-ready and hireable. That is the value of a true internship program: not making coffee, but providing the transition between school and real-world responsibility levels.

  • ArthurH

    Prior to the early years of the Reagan Administration, internships not only paid wages but wages above the minimum wage. And back then the minimum wage in real dollars was far above what it is today. By doing so, companies benefited as they could snare the cream of the up-and-coming future college graduates, and give them real experience. And if they worked well, you could hire a proven employee after they graduated. The free system may save companies money but it limits the intern pool to those who don’t have to earn money to continue their education. You get fewer smart and eager young people seeking to improve their lot and more less smart but entitled young people who grew up without having to work for anything and think a high-paying job is their birthright. Of course, I’ve heard complaints that some interns don’t get to do anything except do lackey work. The only skills they come out with qualifies them only for working behind the counter pouring coffee at Starbucks (and not those high-tech espresso machines).

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    …which is why we passed minimum wage laws in the first place.

    These much-abused loopholes — internships, food and service employee wage rates, agricultural wages — need to be plugged.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    Unpaid internships are basically indentured servitude, and treated as ‘paying your dues’ to get a real job later on down the road. Really though, it is just companies taking advantage of a desperate labor force, willing to do anything to have a better chance at getting a job. Nobody would work for free if they had a real choice in the matter.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Correction: Employers use and exploit interns to rob work from the unemployed.

  • caphillprof

    Interns rob work from the unemployed.

    Perhaps we should call illegal alien farm workers “interns” and make it all better.

  • cole3244

    this is just another way for the insiders to keep the line moving so the good ole persons can keep the advantage they have over the average guy & gal in america, we can’t dilute the genes with the unwashed now can we.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I’m on the side of believing unpaid internships are morally and ethically suspect right from the start.

    Yes, I get it that some non-profits and charitable organizations don’t have much money. But they do have money enough in virtually every case to provide some kind of compensation to paid staff, service providers, and consultants.

    I also understand that the rules are interns aren’t supposed to be providing “value added” services and substantial portions of their work are supposed to be training.

    But I have yet to see an internship situation where the employer wasn’t getting some kind of value-add from the free labor, even if the intern is just doing office support duties. Moreover, an unpaid internship is essentially a tax on whoever is supporting the intern’s living expenses.

    On top of all this, the entire system seems highly prone to abuses, such as having an intern take on secretarial duties or other work that ought to be done by paid employees.

    We used to have this notion — the ideal, really — that honest work deserves fair pay. Sure, when you walk in the door, a total greenhorn, you’re expected not to know a whole lot. However, you’re bringing aptitude and education; they’re providing the investment of training, as well as (hopefully) paying you enough to live on. In exchange, they’re making money off your work. The ideal continues with the notion that as you get better at doing your job(s), you get pay raises and promotions.

    The unpaid internship removes the compensation from that equation — and yes, it unfairly penalizes those who can’t afford not to earn any money during that time. It also furthers the corporatist agenda of making people work for as little money as possible. In this case, none at all.

    If it feels wrong, it’s because it is. You see, Jon, that internship summer you value so much as far as making you more employable? Wouldn’t it have been even better if they also had paid you enough money to pay for rent, food, and continued education, not to mention saving for the future? Just because you’re learning at the same time doesn’t mean the work you’re also doing lacks tangible value.

  • http://heimaey.us/ jim morrissey

    I agree. There is something to be said about getting paid for your work though; regardless of how much it is. Yes, they’re networking, and the money is minimal anyway, and it’s an investment, etc. but there’s a certain humanitarian issue I have with just not paying someone a wage for work they’re performing.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    Exactly. Most people can’t afford to live for three months in DC or NYC or LA without pay. But I’ll go one further. Minimum wage pay wouldn’t change that pay. Three months of pay at minimum wage wouldn’t even pay the rent much less food and other expenses. Those internships would still be out of reach to the same people if they paid that kind of pittance.

  • http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Arel Harry R. Sohl

    Leave Luke Russert ALONE!!!!1!

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