Internships and self-worth

Illustration by Dan Nacu.

Daniel Parker
Guest Contributor

Unpaid internships are often advertised as paying your dues with the promise of networking, a potential job and valuable work experience. A recent study, however, puts those benefits into question.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers has found that students with an unpaid internship have a 37 percent chance of being hired; students with a paid internship have a 57 percent chance and students with no internship have a 35 percent chance.

A financial benefit has also been found in internship choices, students with unpaid internships take jobs with a salary of around $36,000. However, students with paid internships make a salary of around $51,000.

What advantage is there left to gain with an unpaid internship? A two percent advantage seems small, especially when you consider the circumstances around most unpaid internships. Often times, parents pay out of pocket to support students during an unpaid internship.

Higher-income households have no problem paying for a students internship. This situation is less feasibly for middle- and lower-class household. Households that are already strapped for cash can’t afford to pay for a students unpaid internship.

The unpaid internship makes sense on paper. In Ross Perlin’s book “Intern Nation,” Perlin found that numerous companies simply don’t have the hiring capacity, so they hire young interns that they don’t have to pay. Entry-level positions that were once paid are now given to unpaid interns as a means to cut costs. Why wouldn’t a company choose unpaid internships as a way to circumvent costs? Even successful companies are realizing the benefits of not paying interns: if you can exchange paid labor for free labor, isn’t that just the obvious pragmatic solution?

In 2013, Fox News Search Light Company was sued for its unpaid internship program. Two disgruntled interns, who worked 40-55 hours a week, took matters into their own hands and sued the company. The two interns won the case, after the judge ruled that the internship program was illegal because it was providing an immediate benefit to Search Light.

Unpaid internships were never designed to provide an immediate payoff. In 1947, the Supreme Court declared the requirements for an unpaid internship. The legal requirements were that unpaid internships had to be an educational environment for the intern, unpaid internships couldn’t displace employees and the company couldn’t receive any immediate benefit from the internship program. The Supreme Court made these regulations to prevent the situation we are in now.

Students should be more selective about the internships they take. While I am certain unpaid internships do provide a excellent learning environment, as they are meant to do, others are simply an exploitation of a weak job market.

Established superiors often criticize students for feeling entitled, while exploiting young hopefuls trying to break into competitive industries like fashion or media. The fact that unpaid internships have become the new normal is astonishing.

Ask yourself: Are you selling yourself for less than what you are worth? Students shouldn’t be settling for charity work to indifferent executives, who feel their services require no actual compensation. The youth of America deserve better than peddling coffee for higher-ups at no pay.

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