Unpaid interns struggle to make ends meet

The media may be too this or not enough that, but they surely don’t pay enough attention to an illegal practice as widespread as unfair internships. That’s why it’s a treat to see the Christian Science Monitor take an interest in the issue by publishing “Unpaid interns struggle to make ends meet” (by Tom A. Peter, March 5, 2007). The article is mainly focused on how unfair it is for those who can’t afford to work for free.

There are a few interesting quotes.

  • “Internships are steadily becoming – if not already – an institutionalized part of the college experience and a requisite for entry-level work.” Maybe some day it will be widespread enough for a change to occur.
  • “According to a survey conducted by [Vault] last year, 36 percent of students said they were not paid for their internships.” What if they put the bar at “less than minimum wage”?
  • “If you want to break in at the entry level, you have to take a vow of poverty” Why is it expected from interns, but not from others?
  • “I think there’s a tendency to say, ‘OK, kiddos, just suck it up!’ “
  • About universities offering a stipend: “These [stipends] are a fantastic place to start,” says Neff. “But I think it needs to come from companies who have a responsibility to these young people.” Exactly! Why is it that these jobs have to be subsidized? How are we supposed to accept that companies exploit their workforce to increase their profits? Couldn’t they just pay them for their contribution?

And finally, my favourite:

  • “Increasingly, companies are reevaluating the legality of maintaining unpaid interns. “More and more companies are not offering these [unpaid internships] because the boundary [between legal and illegal unpaid internships] is close,” says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an international outplacement firm.”

And if this is true:

  • “Because internships are so important to many students, Neff believes that students would not speak out for fear of damaging future career options.”

… then I invite anybody with such an experience to share it here. It will be a start, a way to assess the scale of the issue and to feel a certain bond.

Good news: the article has been republished on Lawyers.com and CivilRights.org among others.

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6 Responses to Unpaid interns struggle to make ends meet

  1. Jeff says:

    I think unpaid internships is fair means to use students for cheap labor and yes we do have a minimum wage law in the USA and employers are by law responsible for paying it…unpaid labor could I think legally be stretched to define slave labor. But remember students do have choice when they make a job decision and there are plenty of oppurtunities for which a student could recieve a decent paying internship from a respectable company,,,they just gotta go find it.

  2. exintern says:

    Thanks for your comment, Jeff. I think the idea that paid internships exist and it’s a matter of finding them applies at the individual level, but not at the collective level. One person may make an effort and displace another from a paid internship. But when 36% of interns say there were unpaid, it means that there are not enough paid opportunities for all interns.

  3. […] hands, it will be used as an example of how youngsters are spoiled today. It would be missing the big picture of the unfair internships path to the job […]

  4. Bill Murray says:

    It is almost laughable to me that young people today are doing unpaid internships. It is a rite of passage for the privileged (ie. those that can afford to work without pay). It is by no means a guarantee that they will be satisfied with the job if they get it with pay eventually. The employer is the only one who wins. They are assured a continual supply of free labor. That is in many ways
    worse than hiring undocumented workers. They may be doing menial types of work – but –
    AT LEAST THEY ARE BEING PAID – and in may instances – in cash.
    WAKE UP America !!!!!

  5. jd says:

    The employers dont win. The student does. Have you ever worked with someone that never was in the workplace before? Everyone should pay their dues, especially students! If they dont like it, then dont apply for an unpaid internship but dont deny the right to those that want a kickstart to their career.

  6. exintern says:

    Thanks jd for your comment. The catch is there in your suggestion: students are not forced to take an internship, but internships kickstart their career. Then where’s the choice to accept or refuse the conditions of an internship? That’s the reason why unfair internships are illegal.

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