Millions at this moment are working full-time without pay.
I’m talking, of course, about unpaid internships, which is a topic of conversation again with a recent lawsuit.
Almost half of the internships that the college class of 2012 took were unpaid, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Though I’m graduated now, in order to get my editor job, I did five internships. The only was that was paid was a news writing internship where I received about $25 per story.
I’m grateful for all of my internship experience, but after all of that, I can say the system is unfair.
A Philadelphia magazine writer says in an opinion piece that he began as an unpaid intern at the magazine while he was on unemployment after being fired from a non-journalism job. Though the writer admits that he was lucky to get the internship and earn money from unemployment, he goes on to say that unpaid interns need to stop complaining.
“Of course, not everyone gets a job or winds up doing amazing things after an internship. In some cases, that’s just life,” he writes. “But in some cases–in many of them–it’s because the interns are incompetent, disengaged or unwilling to learn.”
So if you didn’t get a wonderful gig after an internship, it’s because you were incompetent?
It’s easy to say that people need to pay their dues by taking on an unpaid internship. It’s just the way you get started in an industry. It provides valuable work experience that will help you land a job later.
Though internships are integral to finding full-time employment post-grad, let me tell you about the other side of unpaid internships — the darker side.
- Interns can’t support themselves. Many unpaid internships require interns to move to another location, which entails moving and living expenses. All those great New York internships? You need to get an apartment there too. Many interns end up paying thousands to work for no money. By the time the summer is gone, so is the balance of their checking account.
- Companies use internships as entry-level jobs. That means that those companies won’t hire newly-minted graduates because the entry-level jobs are already filled by unpaid interns. Why would a company want to hire a graduate and pay for a salary plus benefits when an intern will do the work for free?
- Not every company will hire interns after they graduate. You hear about the rare stories where former interns work for the company after they get their diploma. That Philadelphia writer had such luck. But many times, that doesn’t happen. Interns are only offered jobs half of the time, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers study.
Though my unpaid internships have given me clips, contacts, and open doors, they have sometimes let me down. I once had an internship where the manager told me I would receive $50 to $75 for every story. But after completing two stories, she informed me that there would be no payment since I was an intern. I was furious with the manager’s lying, but I continued working for the company because I needed the experience.
Another time, I showed up on my first day of an internship in my hometown only to be told that the company required that I take the internship for class credit. After some research, I realized taking the unpaid internship for one hour of class credit would cost me about $1,000. I pleaded with the company to let me take the unpaid internship for experience, but a few hours after I walked in for my first day, I was forced to quit because I couldn’t pay a grand to work for free.
I understand that an unpaid internship won’t pay salary plus benefits, but it needs to offer something. The better ones give a stipend for living expenses. I’ve even found a few that put interns up in an apartment. All of these offerings make it easier and fairer for cash-strapped students.
Students are told again and again that they are adults and that an internship is step into the working world.
So why aren’t those students paid like adults?