Is It Immoral to Pay for Unpaid Internships?

Derek Thomson, over at The Atlantic, has another blog post about unpaid internships – a slightly different issue from unfair internships, as should be kept in mind. I have commented rather extensively over there so I’ll lazily re-post my comments here. His point is that it’s the fault of the college career centers if there is demand for middlemen charging to find internships.

There is a large-scale illegal use of free labor and it’s the fault of the college career services that aren’t making enough efforts to place their students unpaid internships? Well, at least it is an original explanation.

Just because there is demand doesn’t mean that it’s justified (otherwise, why legislate for anything? there’s a demand for speeding!). Students create the demand and resort to middlemen in a race to the bottom between each other to get a (paid) job. Some time ago, they would start by accepting an entry-level salary, less holidays, etc. Fair enough. A few years later, students have to do an internship to gain some experience and then get a job. Then they have to do a second another internship. Then, internships are a necessity and the competition is too high, so to get a leg up, you need to pay to get an unpaid job. Makes you wonder what’s next.

I mean: how else would it happen if it was unfair? People entering the job market are a vulnerable part of the labor market and employers are taking advantage of it. No wonder it’s illegal. Check the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Or go to http://www.UnfairInternships.com where we have been blogging about this issue for three years. It’s a scandal hidden in plain sight.

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