Unpaid Interns Slaves to the System

March 4, 2008

It may not exactly be mainstream media, but “the largest fully independent daily campus newspaper in the nation” had an editorial this week titled “Unpaid interns slaves to the system” (The Badger Herald, Ryan Greenfield, March 3, 2008) and it brought up several issues with unpaid internships, like fairness:

Only those students with a form of external support such as parents or student loans can afford to take on an unpaid internship, especially one in another city with very high costs of living.

There is a good moral case to be made for equal opportunity, even though getting paid for one’s work should be a sufficient reason to justify fair internships. Here’s another important point about internships: if getting one is important to differentiate oneself, what happens when they become widespread?

You have to have had internships on your résumé to be able to get one.

The author brings up an interesting statistics, however without reference:

A 1998 survey also found that internship quality is correlated with whether it pays or not. It makes sense: Why should I put my heart into work I’m not even being paid for?

Unfortunately, the editorial falls in the trap of complaining about mind-numbing work given to interns — which applies only to a portion of internships and don’t address the actual problem of working in an actual job for free, against common sense and the law. Still, it deserves praise for bringing up the issue.