Unpaid internships: Scam or opportunity?

Daniel Perret-Goluboff

If you’re in my situation, the nearing end of winter term means a couple of things for you: midterms, longing for spring break and internship applications for the coming summer. Of course, these highly sought-after positions provide a great deal of valuable experience for any student preparing to enter the professional world, but recent points raised argue that may not be enough compensation.

A great deal of difficulty is involved in obtaining a summer internship specific enough to one’s academic field to offer the desired experience, and for all the effort put into acquiring and completing the position, one would typically expect decent financial compensation.

Unfortunately, this is less and less often the case. Many companies and employers offer exclusively unpaid internships, stating that the experience in and of itself is enough to justify a summer’s worth of work.

Students often find themselves having to make the decision between working summer jobs for money or working in their desired career field for little to no compensation. As this trend has gained prominence in our country, many have raised the argument that the Department of Labor and the federal government should act to prevent unpaid internships.

The primary logic behind this argument is that these internships actually violate labor laws that state that workers must be compensated for their efforts. As can be expected, employers offering these positions have been relatively unsympathetic to these calls for change in the workplace.

And why should they be? From the employer’s standpoint, unpaid interns provide a virtual treasure trove of opportunity. They present an opportunity for a company to tap into a pool full of eager and able potential employees willing to do their grunt work for nothing more than a boost to their resume and perhaps an eventual letter of recommendation when they do enter the dismal job market.

Obviously, my opinion as a student is relatively biased, but let us take a minute and observe the situation objectively. Students require internships to create a résumé appealing to potential employers. Simply because the market exists in a fashion that allows employers to hire these students for very little or no money does not mean that it is ethically correct.

Interns are typically some of the most overworked individuals within a given business, and for that they deserve monetary compensation.

The department of labor needs to do something to change this trend in American business. We cannot continue to offer these positions to eager and qualified individuals without any form of compensation. A capitalist society simply does not allow for unpaid work.

All that the system currently does is create a setting in which students take on a loss — if not greater debt acquired through the costs of getting to work, etc. — while they dedicate themselves to advancing their credentials for employment within their respective field.

So do yourself a favor and don’t approach those applications for internships with apathy regarding compensation. Only through massive refusal of unpaid and underpaid positions can we as students expect any sort of paradigm shift in the way that our summer efforts are compensated in this country.