An Atlantic Monthly article saying what I’ve been saying for a long time: unpaid internships are terrible and should be illegal. There is no reason businesses should expect unpaid labor from anyone.
Full disclosure: I worked an unpaid internship at a major newspaper in college. I was very lucky that I still had time to go to class and work a part-time (paid) job waiting tables at Chili’s. And that my parents paid my rent, bills, tuition and books.
That internship has given me a leg up in my career ever since. And you know what? That’s unfair. It’s not that I didn’t work hard at it or deserve the internship. It’s that I was privileged enough to be able to afford to take it. Only students who could afford to work for free could take an internship like that. It was a gigantic newspaper and could have easily, easily afforded to pay us minimum wage. But they didn’t, because they didn’t have to.
The most galling is when internships are offered in exchange for college credit. At many universities, students pay per unit. So in order to take an unpaid internship, they have to pay more in tuition. Essentially, they’re paying to work. At least my school only charged a flat tuition rate per quarter.
But there is a silver lining to my tale of privilege. At every job I’ve had since then, whenever someone mentions hiring interns, I personally insist we pay them. On three separate occasions I’ve made paid internships available to people when my bosses wanted them to work for free. If you have ANY chance to do the same, please do. Businesses, if you can’t afford to pay your employees, you don’t get to have employees.
I’m not saying interns should get a salary and benefits or anything. But minimum wage and a modicum of decency should be standards for all workers in America, no matter what level they’re at.
This. This this this this this. I also have had (completely undeserved) positive effects from my unpaid internship, and saw way too many smart people get completely screwed in their careers because they had to spend their free time in college making money instead of connections. Forcing all white-collar aspirants to work for free for a year or two does an awesome job at stifling class mobility, and it is wrong.