Monday, June 21, 2010

To Pay or Not to Pay?

Here's a well-argued op-ed on why unpaid internships are essentially unfair, by Daniel Akst of the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College. An excerpt:

The reality is that unpaid internships are a great way of giving the children of affluence a leg up in life. If they really do help young people get permanent jobs in desirable fields, then the current internship system has the effect, however unintended, of reserving this advantage mainly for well-to-do families....

In fact, unpaid internships have become such a staple of privilege that some families pay thousands of dollars to for-profit placement firms to land a spot for their kids, something lower-income families can't possibly afford. The practice of requiring interns to pay for college credit -- which some employers hope will keep them from running afoul of labor laws -- only adds to the inequity by raising the price of admission.
A few months ago, the New York Times carried a story on the increasing prevalence of these unpaid internships at for-profit companies. The story quoted Nancy J. Leppink, the acting director of the Labor Department’s wage and hour division, as saying, “If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law.”

In addition to not being paid, interns are not protected by employment law, and so have no recourse if they're subjected to sexual harassment. They're a perfect underclass, which doesn't dare speak out for fear of messing up what they perceive as a necessary step on the path toward getting a job.

1 comment:

Blythe said...

This just sort of stunned me. I hadn't really thought of the economic disparity involved in unpaid internships--probably because I was conflating them with the practicums or "internships" that are part of specific courses or programs. And the fact that interns are so vulnerable to exploitation...