Biting the Hand That Doesn’t Feed Me

You think an internship is a meaningful work experience as opposed to an unrelated job? Try being Minnie Mouse for a summer.

Slate’s Sonia Smith, herself a former intern there, reported on the college credits for cash swap (Biting the Hand That Doesn’t Feed Me, June 8, 2006). The concept may initially sound academic, but it might take you into Mickey’s costume. That’s why she isn’t too hot about the swap, as her subtitle suggests: “Internships for College Credits are a Scam”.

It’s in part a problem of law enforcement, she says: “In theory, federal law should protect them from undue exploitation. In practice, it usually doesn’t.” She points that the responsibility lies in part on the interns themselves: “But interns generally don’t report their employers to the Labor Department for the weeks they spend at the copy machine. They’re too grateful.”

Interns all too often don’t realize the value of their work. They are too star-struck by the company’s name (“I work for ENRON!”) to realize that the company is not being generous: they actually need the hand.

Apparently, there are many organizations who deny students a fair retribution. Sonia Smith compiled herself some interesting statistics:

Using the listings in the 2005 edition of The Internship Bible, I calculated that 52 percent of magazine internships, 54 percent of politics and public-policy internships, 62 percent of TV internships, and 71 percent of radio internships are unpaid. (Newspapers are the exception to the media rule, with only 19 percent of the listed positions going unpaid.)

She mentions colleges that pay students a stipend while they attend an unpaid internship. It may deserve a “Nice-Clean-Up-After-Others” award, but it isn’t the solution. Employers get the benefit of an extra staff; they are the ones who should be paying in most cases. And, as Sonia Smith rightfully says, “The college-stipend option is a helpful fix, but it’s probably realistic only for a relatively small number of well-endowed schools.”

Kudos to Slate for publishing Sonia Smith’s complaint that Slate was great (honest!), but I’d have much preferred a paycheck to the course credit.”, but I’m not sure it makes up for her boss’ clumsy defense of interns, a few years earlier.

Under the dubious title “Washington Interns: They’re Not as Silly and Worthless as You Might Think” (July 20, 2001) affirms: “The kinds of young people who want to come to Washington are generally not avaricious.” Exactly: it’s rather people who hire them who are. How can one be perceived as avaricious when asking for a salary?

It gets better. Without blinking an eye, she suggests: “For better or worse, they often serve as cheap clerical labor, replacing secretaries at a fraction the cost.” And that’s supposed to be a good thing. Dear secretary, take good note that you can be replaced for that cheap a deal.

It goes to show that not only students should be concerned by unfair internships.

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