The first three parts of our report on unpaid internships have focused on the current state of the intern economy. In this final section, we’ll try to speculate about the potential long-term effects of unpaid internships on the job economy.
|Part 1:||A Stupid Law|
|Part 2:||Not the Economy|
|Part 3:||Freelancing & Freemium|
|Part 4:||Long Term Effects|
Think about how many of your friends, coworkers or family members once took unpaid internships. They likely performed a wide range of tasks, including both fulfilling and menial labor. However, one reason they took the position was almost surely to build their resume in order to get a future job in a particular industry. It’s clear unpaid internships are becoming the new normal throughout the economy.
But in low-growth areas where they have long been the norm, one internship is no longer enough. In fact, Diana Wang held seven unpaid internships before participating in a class-action lawsuit against the Hearst Corporation seeking to end the practice.
As entry-level workers are forced to work for longer stretches of time without pay in order to enter the industry of their choice, we hypothesize that upward mobility will become more difficult for students without the means not to earn a living. A landmark 2010 article in the New York Times on unpaid internships notes,
While many colleges are accepting more moderate- and low-income students to increase economic mobility, many students and administrators complain that the growth in unpaid internships undercuts that effort by favoring well-to-do and well-connected students, speeding their climb up the career ladder. Many less affluent students say they cannot afford to spend their summers at unpaid internships, and in any case, they often do not have an uncle or family golf buddy who can connect them to a prestigious internship.
Sometimes, even a great family connection isn’t enough to land a chance at free labor. In some high-prestige media internships, the potential intern actually pays the employer, with the English paper The Tatler reporting one position going for a whopping 50,000 pounds.
Some wealthy colleges provide stipends for unpaid internships, but most do not. As students seek to enter careers where internships are mandatory- and, as we saw earlier, those careers are growing in number- those who need the money will find themselves shut out. Income inequality, which in 2011 stood at its highest level in three decades, will only get worse
So what do we do about unpaid internships?
As we concluded in Part 1 of this report, a first step would be to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the law that describes which unpaid internships are legal, and which (almost all) aren’t. To anyone who knows unpaid interns or their employers, the six criteria in the law are so outdated that one wonders if the government is kidding.
But maybe we could also consider whether there aren’t alternatives to unpaid internships. The goal of internships is, or should be, to prepare young people for careers at little cost to employers. The goal is to give young people the skills they need.