Author Topic: UNPAID INTERNSHIPS: Interesting Article  (Read 2021 times)

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UNPAID INTERNSHIPS: Interesting Article
« on: Jul 02, 2010, 06:36 am »

(Don't know this website directly, was linked to it . . . but find the very brief article highlight the basics I have always thought about internships.)

Internships: Gateway to Opportunity, or Obstacle? By Ross Eisenbrey, Vice President and Kathryn Edwards, Research Assistant, Economic Policy Institute
Posted June 28, 2010

Education is one key to economic advancement.  On average, the more education a person obtains, the greater his or her income. The implications for poverty have been clear: if low-income individuals increase their educational attainment, poverty will decline. But education isn’t the whole story. The school-to-work transition can make a huge difference, and internships have become critical to that transition.


But many internships today create or perpetuate serious inequalities, especially for students from families of modest means. Because so many internships are unpaid, the current system favors students from wealthier families. Unpaid internships require students to forego wages and finance a living without a paycheck, putting them out of reach for many low-income students.


Internships are now a standard component of a college graduate’s resume. They provide an opportunity to learn new skills, try out a certain industry or occupation, network, and meet professionals in a field of interest. In short, internships provide the crucial bridge between education and the labor market.


Increasingly, internships are a necessary prerequisite to a permanent job. A Michigan State University survey in 2007 revealed that half of all college graduate hires had previously interned at the firm where they were hired. A National Association of Colleges and Employers survey of employers found that 76 percent of firms reported relevant work experience as the primary factor that influences their hiring decisions.


The idea of an “entry-level” job has become something of a misnomer, as workers are expected to bring experience to the table before they’ve even started working.


The recession has only made internships more valuable: students who have completed internships have a leg-up over other job applicants in a tough job market for young, educated workers. The unemployment rate for college graduates under age 25 has averaged 9.1 percent over the past twelve months, up from 5.4 percent in 2007.


It is therefore critically important that internships be fairly distributed among students of every demographic group.


We estimate that a typical three-month internship in Washington, DC costs about $4,000, excluding roundtrip travel. For a family living at the poverty line, that is roughly a fifth of their annual income. It’s hard to imagine how a student from that background could afford an unpaid internship in the nation’s capital.


Internships should be awarded to those most capable, but the current system is marred by a competing standard—ability to pay.   The well-off get a boost over better qualified but poorer students who can’t afford to build a resume with unpaid work.


There are also broader implications for the labor market. The persistence of unpaid internships, and the willingness of students to accept them, encourages employers to replace paid workers with unpaid interns. Why pay a lab assistant full-time wages with benefits if three unpaid interns could do the same job? Interns, looking for experience and an advantage in an increasingly difficult labor market, are providing free labor for firms.


Current law, as established by the Fair Labor Standards Act and Department of Labor regulatory guidelines, has a six-part test to determine whether employers are legally required to pay interns, including that the intern does not displace regular employees, that the employer derives no immediate advantage, and that the intern is not entitled to a job at the completion of the internship. If all six parts are not met, the intern must be paid for his or her work.


Most internships at for-profit firms would not pass the test. Unfortunately, there has been little enforcement, primarily because the Department of Labor relies on complaints from workers to initiate investigations. Interns themselves must be the ones to complain—but many are ignorant of the law or too intimidated to speak up.


The result is that unpaid internships, though often illegal, are widespread, and students able to afford them get the experience all job-seekers are desperate to have.

Non-profits and government agencies may lawfully accept unpaid volunteer work, so unpaid internships are legal.  But they still disadvantage students from poor families.  This is especially troubling when the employer is a legislator or a government agency, since opportunities to learn how government works and to network in political circles could be crucial for future government employment.


The Labor Department recently announced it will devote increased enforcement attention to internships, but until it does, a system that worsens inequality will become more and more entrenched.


There are two solutions to this problem: either all internships should be paid or means-tested stipends should be funded to support poorer students accepted into unpaid internships at non-profits or in government.


A democracy should strive to provide equal opportunity to all citizens, based on merit rather than ability to pay.  Otherwise, what is given with one hand through education will be taken with the other hand by an unfair labor market.


Ross Eisenbrey is the Vice President of the Economic Policy Institute.


Kathryn Edwards is a Research Assistant at the Economic Policy Institute.
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Re: UNPAID INTERNSHIPS: Interesting Article
« Reply #1 on: Jul 02, 2010, 03:15 pm »
What a great article--- I was in that situation when I got out of school and I got offered all of these AMAZING (or so I thought) internships with well established companies in NYC but I couldn't take them because they were unpaid and I was supporting myself. Made me sick to my stomach to have to pass up on them. Similarly, jobs that don't pay a living wage (*cough*SHOWCASES*cough*) make me equally frustrated.

However, after spending a year working in retail to pay the bills,  the prevalence of unpaid/underpaid internships also pushed me to sharpen my skills and interview techniques so I could land paid jobs that were in my field. So far, so good. My last project I was the PSM and all of my interns were actually only 1-2 years younger than me, but were taking the job to build up their resume.

Unfortunately, with the way the economy is I don't see there being a big upheaval against unpaid internships anytime soon. It is a genius business model, free eager labor. As the article states, the only way it'll go away is if no one is willing to work for free...
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