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Calling Bullshit on Unpaid Interships (irishstu.com)
380 points by EamonLeonard 1430 days ago | 202 comments



I didn't realize that the unpaid internship situation is as bad in Ireland as it is here in the U.S. My startup helps college students find entry level jobs and internships, so I'm constantly aware of what the latest trends are.

One trend that really scares me is that there are some "career experts" whom I interact with regularly who offer their own unpaid virtual internships (I've seen lots of other internships like this, but the fact that career experts who are supposed to help interns are offering these really blows my mind). These are people who don't have the ability to offer many of the benefits that do come with an unpaid internship such as making connections, learning what it's like to work in a real office, having a recognizable name on your resume, etc.

Another trend that scares me is that we're seeing more and more internships auctioned off in charity auctions. Rich parents actually pay for their kids to get some experience.

Unfortunately, interns aren't going to be the ones to stop this trend. Unpaid interns do benefit from their internships. They mostly accept it as something that they have to do, and they know that if they refuse to take an unpaid internship, there are thousands of other students who will snap up the opportunity.

Change is either going to have to come from employers or the government. I strongly believe that offering paid internships is more favorable to employers because they get better quality interns who are more motivated, and the employer has a stronger incentive to use the intern's time well.

Here in the U.S. there are already laws against unpaid internships. I wrote an article on it here: http://www.onedayoneinternship.com/blog/are-unpaid-internshi...

There's actually an excellent and fair standard for determining when an unpaid internship should be allowed; however, I've never heard of an employer's being prosecuted under the Fair Labor Standards Act for having unpaid interns. And if the law were to start to be enforced, I'm not sure the outcome would benefit students in the short-term. There would be a lot fewer opportunities as many employers would get rid of their internship programs. This would result in even more competition for what paid opportunities were left.

I really hate unpaid internships, but I still haven't figured out what it's going to take to make them a thing of the past. They've become an essential part of the transition from education to employment, and messing around with that in a time when really talented grads are struggling to land jobs probably isn't a good idea. We may have to wait until the economy really heats up again.

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There would be a lot fewer opportunities as many employers would get rid of their internship programs. This would result in even more competition for what paid opportunities were left.

If there are only a few internships available in a given field, having an internship would no longer be a de facto requirement for starting a career in that field (unless the handful of new employees who got the handful internships are all the new blood that's needed, in which case the unpaid internship system is just another way to string people along).

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I didn't realize that the unpaid internship situation is as bad in Ireland as it is here in the U.S.

Ireland has been hit by a strong recession. Unemployment is high (~15%), and particularly high amount young people. Many are emigrating to find other work. The media is full of stories about how there are no jobs.

Which is a shame because there is a massive skill shortage if you know programming/sysadmining in Ireland. Companies spend months trying to find employees.

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I can vouch for the skills gap here in Ireland.

I have siblings working in fields which were quite dependent on the housing bubble and as such they have been out of work for some time.

On the other hand, every IT recruiter I know here is complaining about the lack of candidates and I've had as much work as I've wanted in the past few years.

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working in fields which were quite dependent on the housing bubble

To be fair a few years ago one quarter of working men worked in construction. That's just crazy.

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Wow, how can I move there?

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Some friends of mine (first degree friends, this is verified) moved to Dublin and just, well, didn't leave.

At least in 2006 it was rather easy to get a tax identification number (I forget what it's called) with a signed affidavit and a witness saying you live at some address, and you can use that to get work. Now, without better documentation the government taxes you at the highest rate possible, and since you won't file you'll never get a penny back.

Also, they worked in card houses, so maybe the documentation requirements weren't as strict as a professional programming environment. Oh, and I'm sure it's all sorts of illegal. But just doing it is easier than it seems. :)

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tax identification number (I forget what it's called)

PPS Number

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If you are a EU citizen you can move and live here (think there is some restriction on new accession states). If your grandparent is/was an Irish citizen, you are entitled to full Irish citizenship (and hence you can work here or anywhere else in the EU). Aside from that, I'm not sure.

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I think it's more, if your grandparent was born in Ireland, you are entitled to apply for citizenship, and if your parent was born in Ireland, you are considered a citizen, and just have to verify the documents and get your passport.

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if your grandparent was born in Ireland

I suspect, but amn't sure, that this is more felxible, and I think they include Northern Ireland aswell, i.e. they include "the island of Ireland".

(Which makes sense, the country now known as Ireland didn't exit until 1922, I'm in my 27s and by grandmother was born in the late 1920s. Someone in the 50s could have a grandparent born in what was then the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.)

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There will always be people looking to take advantage. I had a potential employer call me in for three multiple hour "interviews" during which time they grilled me on how I would handle problem X and design system Y. I was fairly naive because in hindsight it's obvious to me that they didn't want an employee just a free consultation. Smart hack on their part though, and I learned something too.

For the right job I'll offer a trial period. Usually a one-two month stint followed up by a buy or fly decision. Play it right and you have a lot of leverage. They just finished training you and you're showing a lot of promise out of the gate. In the managers head they are dreading the idea of having to go through the interview process all over again. The key is not to go looking for people offering unpaid work, but to find people who want to pay and make the buy decision easier.

When negotiating keep in mind that you have nothing to lose. If the job is unpaid you gain by leaving. The other side of the table has a lot more at stake. They lose someone they've spent a lot of time/money training, and they have to start over at square one with someone new. Don't underestimate how hard it is to find good people. Frankly if they aren't going to pay you then chances are you aren't that good, or the managers are fools for not trying to keep good people. In either case what would you gain by staying?

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I had an interview where the company wanted me to produce, on my own time, a "sample" strategy memo that was obviously for a client proposal. It did it, and got the job offer, but it bothered me and I ended up turning down the job.

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When Germany entered an economic slump after the Euro-introduction in 2002, companies loathed hiring on permanent positions. As a result, people who came out of college were hired on internships. An entire generation of young students were taken advantage of in this way, dubbed "Generation Praktikum" by the media (literally "generation internship"). It's sad to see the same happening in Ireland / the US now.

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Funny, here in Sweden this caused a shift not to internshifts but to people being hired by the staffing companies.

The current situation is pretty different though - there is a huge lack of all kinds of IT people and it is really easy to get a job.

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Having been a German Praktikant (but a British national) I have a lot to say about Unpaid/Low Paid internships. Unfortunately I doubt ycombinator could handle that many characters ;)

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Unfortunately, interns aren't going to be the ones to stop this trend. Unpaid interns do benefit from their internships. They mostly accept it as something that they have to do, and they know that if they refuse to take an unpaid internship, there are thousands of other students who will snap up the opportunity.

I don't think this will always be the case. As more people work on things that scale, the importance of quality will become more obvious, and employers will be more motivated to find the best. On the intern side, as it becomes more obvious to people how vulnerable large firms are to disruption by agile startups, the knowledge of how to price, value, and market oneself will become more widespread, and fewer grads will be taken unawares.

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I think part of the problem in Ireland is the government are now touting internships as a solution to our unemployment/economic problems. In some case, they might work out where there's real training and some level of compensation. It's probably good if you can take someone with _no_ experience in a field, let them still receive their social welfare perhaps with a bonus, and after a limited period they graduate on to a real job. Unfortunately, I don't think that will happen and many companies are basically looking for free labour.

What's even more galling, from my perspective, is the government is taking money out of the pensions of private citizens to pay for this "jobs initiative".

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What would it take for schools to enforce fair labor standards on behalf of their students?

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Unpaid internships are essentially a form of serfdom.

The serf system in Russia IIRC started with free peasants who sold themselves into slavery to the landowner when they fell into debt - unlike African slaves in the US, who were essentially kidnapped into servitude.

In the same vein people are taking up voluntary servitude in order to get a paid job - sometimes even paying for the privilege.

Moreover - a point not raised in the article - in expensive cities the only way a fresh graduate can survive without salary is if their parents subsidize them. Who can afford to do so ? Rich families. So it's a form of discrimination.

A company has no excuse for not paying at least minimum wage. If you can't afford the employees you need you shouldn't be in business, period. Any company that uses unpaid internships is morally bankrupt and should be boycotted.

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There's a temptation in politics to see patterns and then fit language to it that kind of fits. It's important not to do this, because it ruins the sense of scale. For example, when someone describes a politician they don't like as a "fascist" it's disrespectful to the memory of people who are squashed under tanks and who are taken in the night by state agents, raped and murdered.

Along these lines, it doesn't fit to equate unpaid internships to serfdom. Serfdom involves effectively permanent, near total servitude to a landowner for most aspects of life. You don't travel. You don't get educated. You don't have upside. You can't escape. You're screwed. An unpaid internship is not at all like this. Unpaid internships are not "essentially a form of serfdom".

If your labour has value then you can find work that pays you a rate for it (except for minimum wage - more about this shortly). You have the opportunity to expose yourself to experience by doing internships. If you don't have anything better to be doing, then it's a win-win situation for you and the person you're doing internship.

When I was young I worked in a computer assembly shop for basically no money. In the course of this work I plugged a power cable into a motherboard and fried it. I probably rubbed customers up the wrong way, and certainly did dumb things. My labour was worth less than nothing, and I was lucky to have the opportunity to be allowed near the place or customers.

As I became valuable I struck a private agreement with the owner and spent a summer working full-time, for which I was paid one gravis ultrasound ACE. I think I ended up better on the deal than the owner, but it was a close-run thing.

Another time I was contracted to do a job for an oil company. It took me a month to do something that would now take me a day, and the end result was so bad that they got no return on investment of the the AUD 300 they paid me for the job. Note that in the case of the oil company work, I already had most of a computer science degree, and so was more qualified than the average kind of person who lives on minimum wage and still near-worthless.

After spending some time working to build up my skills, I'm now happy with my career. I wouldn't be here except for working in situations where I was earning less than minimum wage, often with people giving my low money on the offchance I might not be incompetent.

The minimum wage is a horrible stain on a free society. It traps people with low skills out of work and cements them into an underclass that's much more difficult to break out of. It prevents business that are operating on the edge from continuing to operate. It's a classic example of do-gooders riding in and creating damage.

There is an argument in favour of minimum wage, and it's this: some people are too incompetent to be capable of standing up for themselves, and these people would be easy to take advantage of for malicious bosses, of which there are no shortage. The minimum wage is a blunt force mechanism that aims (and fails) to protect this set of people. The reason it fails is that in protecting low-wage employed people, it locks out people who are in a worse situation - unempployed.

It's a ridiculous solution that hurts the people it claims to represent. There are much better avenues that would be cheaper and have more positive effect on people: basic risk, valuation and business skills being taught in early high-school, television campaigns that encourage people to think about how their labour is used, what they could do to make themselves marketable. Mechanisms to get people speaking English more effectively. Lower taxation. Effective technical colleges.

The minimum wage system is a mechanism designed by the elite to allow that elite to paper over things and sleep at night pretending they're doing the right thing. It hurts the people it claims to protect.

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>If your labour has value then you can find work that pays you a rate for it (except for minimum wage - more about this shortly). You have the opportunity to expose yourself to experience by doing internships. If you don't have anything better to be doing, then it's a win-win situation for you and the person you're doing internship.

That only works in an absolutely frictionless labor market. Meanwhile, in the real world, there are many sources of friction - location being the most prominent. If you have valuable skills, in say, graphic design and the one print shop in your town shuts down, then it doesn't matter how good you are as a designer - you're not going to get a job. Through the '90s, it didn't matter how good a machinist you were - if you lived in the Detroit area, your employment prospects were poor, just because of the glut caused by hemorrhaging auto industry.

>There is an argument in favour of minimum wage, and it's this: some people are too incompetent to be capable of standing up for themselves, and these people would be easy to take advantage of for malicious bosses, of which there are no shortage. The minimum wage is a blunt force mechanism that aims (and fails) to protect this set of people. The reason it fails is that in protecting low-wage employed people, it locks out people who are in a worse situation - unemployed.

Nice job with that straw-man. Unfortunately, the argument you cite bears no resemblance to the actual reason we have a minimum wage. The reason we have a minimum wage is that historically, its the lack of a minimum wage that has created an underclass of people in poverty that don't have the resources to increase their station in life. All throughout the 1800s and early 1900s the US tried to be your minimum-wage free utopia. The results were horrific. We had a permanent underclass of (usually immigrant) tenants living in squalid conditions. If you want to regress to 1890s-era working conditions, then yes, by all means repeal the minimum wage.

Lacking a minimum wage also hurts the economy. Without a minimum wage, the number of consumers for any good beyond basic food, clothing and shelter products would be drastically cut. History has shown that without outside incentives, employers will pay only the minimum needed to keep their workers alive (and sometimes not even that). A minimum wage ensures that there is a bottom in the race to the bottom for wages.

>The minimum wage system is a mechanism designed by the elite to allow that elite to paper over things and sleep at night pretending they're doing the right thing. It hurts the people it claims to protect.

If that's the case, then why do the elites always protest vociferously every time the minimum wage is raised? There are massive lobbying efforts by big business every time the minimum wage issue comes up for debate, despite the fact that there is no economic evidence whatsoever that the presence of a $7.25 minimum wage has had a measurable impact on employment.

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Without a minimum wage, the number of consumers for any good beyond basic food, clothing and shelter products would be drastically cut.

Unlikely. Very few employees in the US make exactly the minimum wage, which is why it's true that minor increases have close to no effect.

There are massive lobbying efforts by big business every time the minimum wage issue comes up for debate

True, for example WalMart lobbies in favor of minimum wage increases. Out of concern for low-income workers, or to raise business costs for their competitors? Hmm...

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Unlikely. Very few employees in the US make exactly the minimum wage, which is why it's true that minor increases have close to no effect.

Keep in mind how many products are imported from third world countries that have poor labor standards & low wages. The current US lifestyle is heavily subsidized by this cheap labor. Additionally here in the US there is often abuse with illegal immigrants who make well below minimum wage & work in poor working conditions.

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Intriguingly enough, without outsourced jobs from first-world countries, economic development in the third world would be even slower and labor standards poorer due to the lack of employer competition.

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Are you implying a chicken and egg scenario whereby a third-world needs a first-world before it can become a first world? Going by that logic there should have never been a first world country in the first place. Who was the United States' United States?

Much of the third world is the way it is due to a history of instability, violence & repression, not necessarily a lack of well to do business men looking for an opportunity to avoid having to deal with pesky ideals such as labor regulation.

While it's great that Chinese have the option now of working 12+ hour plus days 6 days a week instead of going off & dying in a rice patty field, somehow I doubt philanthropic philosophy is the reason business goes to China.

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"Who was the United States' United States?"

Great Britain.

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This however is not applicable to every developing country, here in South America the majority of foreign companies are here because of the local market potential and not generally to produce here and send to another place in the globe, this happens mainly because of the existence of China and India that are more cost effective for this type of market than industries in South America.

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4.9% of US pop. working at or below minimum wage is hardly insignificant.

http://www.bls.gov/cps/minwage2009.htm

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You are misreading. It's 0.8% of the US population and 4.9% of hourly (i.e., nonsalaried) workers.

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Ah, yes, thanks. Still, I doubt 3.6 mil workers is an economically ineffectual number.

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They are all teenagers or part-timers.

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I can't speak for the whole economy, but when I was making $4.75 and the minimum wage increased from $4.25 -> $4.75, it had an effect on my morale (when i saw no increase).

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The minimum wage is a price floor, and like any price control, there's exactly two ways it can effect the economy: it can result in a shortage of labor or it can have absolutely no effect. At $7.25 it's closer to the "absolutely no effect" side of the spectrum--I've seen high turnover, low wage jobs priced above that due to market forces alone. There might be paid apprenticeships that are priced out of the market by the minimum wage, but that's speculative.

The entire rest of your post is frankly nonsense--it's clear you've never actually learned anything about economics, because most economists concede that the minimum wage doesn't really do much to help anyone, and if anything, only increases unemployment.

History doesn't back you up on this--the 19th century was a materially poorer time in the sense that less wealth was being created to begin with. While large numbers of immigrants lived in poverty, they voluntarily chose to live in those conditions because it was the best opportunity they had. If there was a minimum wage above and beyond the value their labor could legitimately produce, they wouldn't have had that opportunity and they would have been materially even worse off. More to the point, there is still a permanent underclass of immigrants living in poverty and earning less than the minimum wage in this country. When the relevant wage and immigration laws are enforced on that population, the net effect is that they're forced to live in the impoverished countries they voluntarily chose to escape from.

As for the rest of us, our recourse is to legitimately generate more wealth than the cost of our wages and benefits so that we remain profitably employed. The majority of the American population is doing this just fine without the government coming in and setting our wages for us.

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Maybe a minimum wage policy has a wider remit than "the economy." Why bother with any regulations, or indeed employee rights at all? As for your arguments about immigrants - people may migrate to live "the American dream", but how many people's situations are actually improved?

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Maybe a minimum wage policy has a wider remit than "the economy."

That doesn't make much sense to me. The consequences of a minimum wage law are purely economic, on the people as a whole and on the employers and employees affected by that law, as well as on the people who aren't employed due to that law.

Why bother with any regulations, or indeed employee rights at all?

Some regulations are helpful; some aren't. I'm just talking about the minimum wage.

As for your arguments about immigrants - people may migrate to live "the American dream", but how many people's situations are actually improved?

That question is for them to answer. If they don't find their conditions improved, they're free to return home. (Obviously, I'm setting aside cases of human trafficking and so forth--that's an entirely separate issue, and I think we both agree that human trafficking is wrong.)

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    Through the '90s, it didn't matter how good a
    machinist you were - if you lived in the Detroit
    area, your employment prospects were poor, just
    because of the glut caused by hemorrhaging auto
    industry.
In that setting you have to do one or more of retrain, move somewhere else, start your own business. Except the presence of a minimum wage makes two of those three more difficult than it would otherwise be.

    there is no economic evidence whatsoever that the
    presence of a $7.25 minimum wage has had a measurable
    impact on employment.
That's hardly surprising, as you can't reliably measure any economic effect in a complex economic system because there's no mechanism for getting a control.

But your logic is attractice. We'll just move the minimum wage up to a thousand dollars an hour. We can all be rich together.

What you had to say about history of minimum wage in America is interesting, I'll read up on that.

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>In that setting you have to do one or more of retrain, move somewhere else, start your own business. Except the presence of a minimum wage makes two of those three more difficult than it would otherwise be.

Without savings, how do you pay for retraining? Without savings, how do you pay for relocation? Without savings, how do you start a new venture of your own? Without a minimum wage, how does a person on the very bottom of the social scale accumulate savings? Without a minimum wage, wages for the lowest skill jobs get driven down to starvation wages. At those rates, its very difficult for people to accumulate enough capital to make the necessary improvements to their situation.

>But your logic is attractice. We'll just move the minimum wage up to a thousand dollars an hour. We can all be rich together.

Right, and while we're at it, we can move the top tax rate right down to 5%. The extra money freed up will generate so much economic activity that government will end up making money in the long run.

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Without savings, how do you pay for retraining?

One common method is to work for free for a short time, until you gain the skills necessary to perform a new job.

Without a minimum wage, how does a person on the very bottom of the social scale accumulate savings?

By reducing consumption.

Where I live, the GDP per capita is about 40x lower than the US. The top 5% tends to have a standard of living comparable to the bottom 5% of the US. The savings rate is 20%, compared to +/- 2-3% in the US.

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One common method is to work for free for a short time, until you gain the skills necessary to perform a new job.

Luckily food, shelter & transport is free too.

Where I live, the GDP per capita is about 40x lower than the US.

Where exactly do you live & what is the quality of life for those at the bottom?

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I live in India. The quality of life at the bottom here in India is terrible, but that's irrelevant. I'm comparing the US poor to India's top 10% (lets not even discuss India's middle class).

The average poor household in the US has 2 rooms per person, a car or two, air conditioning, and all sorts of consumer goods.

http://www.census.gov/prod/2008pubs/h150-07.pdf

I recently visited a family in Bandra (one of the poshest suburbs of Mumbai). They had 0.75 rooms/person, no AC, an inconsistent and undrinkable water supply, no car and a single bathroom about half the size of any in the US (i.e., no separated shower stall). My understanding is that this is fairly typical for their strata.

They are in the top 5% (roughly) of India. If Indians can save 20% of their income, so can Americans.

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Your description of "poor" sounds more like "Working Class" or "Lower Middle Class" in the USA. Often these lifestyles are supplied due to easy credit.

Sheltered poverty in the USA means studio apartment, no a/c, no car, no laundry facilities on site, dangerous neighborhood, little to no public transport.

You also have dirt poor poverty which people commonly refer to as "trailer trash", where you have communities of poor people living in trailers wasting away their lives with poor choices & poverty.

Then you have the destitute poor which are those that live on city streets, eat a charity kitchens & often have drug or mental health problems.

I will say that the poor in the USA do have it better than the poor in India, but that's mainly due access to government assistance. Often the US poor don't have money to save because they bought an A/C, fixed their car, had to see a doctor or payback a loan they took out the week before to make ends meet. That or they live with subsidized housing & utilities and are given a tiny amount of welfare/food stamps which is lucky to last to the end of the month.

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My definition of poor is the US government standard definition. My description is merely a factual description of people meeting the government's definition, according to the census. 75% of the poor do have a car (25% have two or more), 66% have 2 rooms per person, and just over half have AC.

Go read the census article I linked to.

If you wish to claim the government's definition of "poor" is overly broad and includes huge numbers of people who are actually middle class, I agree with you. But that simply means there are far fewer poor people in the US than we currently believe.

I will say that the poor in the USA do have it better than the poor in India, but that's mainly due access to government assistance.

No, it's due to wealth, plain and simple. Take away government assistance and virtually all Americans still have more than $1200/year to live on.

a tiny amount of welfare/food stamps which is lucky to last to the end of the month.

If that were true, poor Americans would not be fat.

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75% of the poor do have a car (25% have two or more), 66% have 2 rooms per person, and just over half have AC.

Firstly AHS has a disclaimer that it overestimates poverty levels. This can inflate who falls into the "below poverty levels". Also the AHS is counting totals, yes someone may have A/C but that doesn't mean they have a car or 2 rooms per person. Someone could have two rooms & a car that breaks down often, but no A/C. Someone could have all 3 and someone else could have 0. Also the AHS mentions that 11% of those below poverty don't have safe drinking water & 20% live in a neighborhood with serious crime.

Also rooms per person & A/C & a car may not illustrate quality of life. You could look at Brazil having a rooms per person ratio which is much better than India, but your life would still suck if you lived in the slums.

Let's just say that being poor in the US poor isn't a picnic. But I don't think that India is a picnic either. The poor in each country faces a different set of problems. Just because the US poor have more money than the poor in India doesn't mean they don't still face serious problems. Like the saying goes "More money, more problems".

No, it's due to wealth, plain and simple.

Is the US just magically wealthy? Where is wealth derived from? How does a country like India become wealthy?

Take away government assistance and virtually all Americans still have more than $1200/year to live on.

...and cost of living in the USA is exactly the same as in India?

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I agree that the government overestimates poverty levels. It's a much smaller problem in the US than most people believe.

Rooms per person, A/C and car may not illustrate quality of life, but they are consumption. If the Indian upper middle class can reduce consumption and live without such luxuries in order to save 20% of income, so can the US poor.

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Air conditioning & a used car are actually rather low in cost compared to housing, shelter & food in the USA. Also alternatives are not always cheaper. A bus pass can be $90/mn compared to $50/mn for insurance & $50/mn for gas with a car. Air conditioning is often built-in or is a $100 initial outlay.

Also again comparing the US to India is not an exact science.

http://www.mckinsey.com/mgi/mginews/bigspenders.asp The next two groups—seekers, earning between 200,000 and 500,000 rupees ($4,376- $10,941), and strivers, with incomes of between 500,000 and 1 million rupees ($10,941-$21,882)—will become India's huge new middle class. While their incomes would place them below the poverty line in the United States, things are much cheaper in India. When the local -cost of living- is taken into account, the income of the seekers and strivers looks more like -$23,000 to $118,000-, which is middle class by most developed-country standards.

Perhaps not having clean drinking water makes other aspects of life cheaper in India. Does clean drinking water matter? Yes. But maybe not having clean drinking water is the trade off you make for being able to save 20% of your income?

Also there are very few places here in the US that are going to let you work for free to learn about the system works & then either hire you on or give you skills that are transferable elsewhere. Employers do not like desperation & want people who have qualification that match what they're looking for. They'd rather pay someone who knows what they're doing than waste their time on someone who's desperate for a job & is actually going to cost them money while that person subtracts from others while learning things.

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> By reducing consumption.

If you're making minimum wage, there's not much consumption to be lowered. Rent, transport, and food will eat it all up (and then some).

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> If you're making minimum wage, there's not much consumption to be lowered. Rent, transport, and food will eat it all up (and then some).

Rent, transportation, and food are consumption. If they're eating up everything and then some, find a way to lower them. Move in with your parents if you have to, or share a place with friends. Learn to love rice, beans, and potatoes. Walk or take the bus. There are lots of options.

(This isn't abstract theory; I'm presently living on not much more than minimum wage, and I have a wife and kid.)

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If you're making minimum wage, chances are you're already riding the bus, eating rice, beans, and potatoes. Chances are also pretty good that your parents and friends are in a similar financial situation.

How many minimum wage earners have a MS degree like you?

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> If you're making minimum wage, chances are you're already riding the bus, eating rice, beans, and potatoes.

This is true of very few of the minimum wage and less earners I've been friends with over the years. (I apologize, I don't have broader statistics than "people I know".)

It's amazing how little money you can get by on if you're willing to really cut back. I don't think it takes an MS degree to figure out how.

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That only works in an absolutely frictionless labor market. Meanwhile, in the real world, there are many sources of friction.

Yes there is friction, but how does that effect whether internships are a good idea? By far the biggest source of friction in technology hiring is the lemon problem[1], and internships actually help get around that by providing references. You could credibly argue that unpaid internships are a good idea only in highly frictional labor markets.

As to location, well, if there aren't any jobs in your industry locally there won't be any internships either, so that's a distinction without a difference in this discussion.

[1]http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2005/01/27.html

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You are attempting to understand the impact of a minimum wage from from an intellectual perspective but the map is not the territory. Just as having low taxes and few public services intellectually makes more sense but in reality reduces the quality of life in society, so it is with having a minimum wage. Compare the US and counties like Sweden for evidence.

You assume that the minimum wage is there to protect incompetent people but the reality is that when you treat someone badly like that, day in and day out, it destroys their self-esteem. You sound like you have grown up in a high self-esteem environment and probably can't relate to the poor mentality. It is a trap, it is created by the environment people grow up in and changing is difficult. For evidence, try changing your mentality and see how easy you find it. Most people tend to stay in one place in terms of their mindset for their whole lives, whether they are rich or poor.

If you honestly think that being paid a wage so low that you don't have enough money to bring yourself out of poverty is better than being unemployed, I have trouble not calling you delusional. Why should anyone have to work two or three jobs just to (barely) survive? How is this better than welfare for those who can't and a wage which results in living above the poverty line for those who can? How can you not understand that this would greatly increase crime? Think about it, imagine it - you're unemployed and have an opportunity to work 16 hours a day and you'll still starve or you could start selling drugs or robbing people or swindling money, which would give you enough to live on.

Honestly, your whole attitude reeks of ignorance. Go spend some time with people who live in chronic poverty, try to understand what they're going through and you'll be able to get around this.

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You are attempting to understand the impact of a minimum wage from from an intellectual perspective but the map is not the territory. Just as having low taxes and few public services intellectually makes more sense but in reality reduces the quality of life in society, so it is with having a minimum wage. Compare the US and counties like Sweden for evidence.

Funny thing about comparing the US and Sweden, the US has a minimum wage and Sweden doesn't. What Sweden does have lots of, though is a lot of re-distributive taxation[1]. If you go and look at actual real world economists instead of the caricatures that make it into our political debates in the US you'll find that most of them are actually democrats, and many like progressive income taxes, welfare, etc. But despite the fact that most of them like government spending, pretty much none of them like the minimum wage. You could say that Sweden is exactly how your typical democrat economist would run a country if they could, with Singapore being the conservative equivalent.

[1] Ok, their taxation structure is less progressive than the US's, but they spend much more of their taxes on services instead of, say, fighter planes so in practice its more re-distributive.

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I would argue that Sweden does have a minimum wage since, from wiki - "There is no minimum wage that is required by legislation. Instead, minimum wage standards in different sectors are normally set by collective bargaining." I think that having a government lobby for your interests is the same as a collective doing so.

Looking at countries with no minimum wage, or, to put it another way, no formal organisation(s) to lobby for the rights of workers, it is clear that the results are less than savory (hint: the only country this applies to is North Korea) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_minimum_wages_by_countr...

I think that the core issue is that the majority of people expand as much as they can until something stops them, which is why formal agreements are necessary at this stage of humanity's development. Few people are conscious enough to act fairly in the absence of law. I think that the long term solution to creating a society where a minimum wage is not necessary is education and a culture of personal development. When people stop outsourcing their morals to authority, they will make the right decisions.

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Along these lines, it doesn't fit to equate unpaid internships to serfdom. Serfdom involves effectively permanent, near total servitude to a landowner for most aspects of life. You don't travel. You don't get educated. You don't have upside. You can't escape. You're screwed. An unpaid internship is not at all like this. Unpaid internships are not "essentially a form of serfdom".

No, but that's how serfdom started - through voluntary servitude.

The point isn't to equate 21st century Europe or US with pre-19th century Russia. The point is that serfdom is a form of voluntary servitude which people entered into out of desperation. Likewise, nobody works for free (outside of charitable work) unless they are desperate (or they are rich kids, and don't need to care). Companies exploit this through unpaid internships - assuming they can get away with it.

Saying "you're free to walk away" is not a moral argument; if the only way a young person can find work is through doing voluntary servitude then they are stuck in that position until they do so.

Minimum wage laws exist for a number of reasons. If people don't get enough from employers, who pays ? The welfare system, i.e. the rest of us. So employers can exploit the system to boost their profits. Second, how does it fail to protect people ? Since when did a living wage for a day's work become a controversial issue ?

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If people don't get enough from employers, who pays ? The welfare system, i.e. the rest of us.

If a potential employer chooses not to employ someone, who pays? The welfare system.

For either low pay or no pay, low value workers will require welfare. I don't see how this is a valid argument for a minimum wage.

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Well, the employer gets cheap (or even free) labour - and therefore higher profits - paid for by the taxpayer. In essence, the employer is exploiting the system as much as any "welfare queen".

Sure, workers on minimum wage may receive benefits - but they would require less benefits than if there was no minimum wage.

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"In 2004, a year in which Wal-Mart reported $9.1 billion in profits, the retailer's California employees collected $86 million in public assistance, according to researchers at the University of California-Berkeley. [...]In 2004, Democratic staffers of the House education and workforce committee calculated that each 200-employee Wal-Mart store costs taxpayers an average of more than $400,000 a year, based on entitlements ranging from energy-assistance grants to Medicaid to food stamps to WIC—the federal program that provides food to low-income women with children."

http://motherjones.com/politics/2009/01/america-195-week

And this is with a minimum wage.

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Bull. The store didn't create the problem. The numbers may be correct; the conclusion is yellow journalism.

The store may even help alleviate the problem, by providing Some income for these people.

Its not very clever to ask WalMart to just pay these people more; how about UCBerkely show some sincerity and pay them themselves?

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The numbers are the only thing that's quoted. The conclusion is that if they paid lower wages, the amount of government support to employed people would rise unless those policies were changed also. Government support paid by taxes, including the taxes of those who work at UCBerkeley.

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The statement was squarely that it cost the public money to have WalMart in our town - they expressed it as the cost per WalMart.

For example, they could have expressed how much is Saved the public per WalMart. They didn't express it that way. Because it made a more sensationalist article the other way.

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People made unemployed by the minimum wage require more benefits than they would if they could be gainfully employed at (e.g.) 50% of minimum wage.

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There is no empirical evidence that introducing a minimum wage causes job losses on a scale where the increase of unemployment benefits would outweigh the benefits of its introduction.

The whole idea that the minimum wage causes unemployment is a myth that is based on incorrect labour market models.

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There is little good empirical evidence about the minimum wage, period. I'd have a hard time showing any harm, and you'll have a hard time showing any benefit.

That's because the minimum wage is usually set at such a low level that it applies to very few workers (<1.5M in the US, as of 2007), so very few natural experiments are available.

http://www.bls.gov/cps/minwage2007.htm

I'll give you one natural experiment, however. A min wage hike in American Samoa caused unemployment to increase by at least 6% (= 2041 workers fired by Chicken of the Sea / (65k American Samoans x 52% labor force participation rate)).

http://washingtonexaminer.com/node/127791

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In fact, allowing employers to pay less than minimum wage alleviates burden on the welfare system--not only do they have to pay less to support the impoverished wage-earner, but they are actually working in the economy and generating wealth, increasing the tax base that the welfare system draws on.

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"Saying "you're free to walk away" is not a moral argument; if the only way a young person can find work is through doing voluntary servitude then they are stuck in that position until they do so."

I disagree. My unpaid jobs have always been much more accommodating when I leave - they realize they're not paying me so they don't give me a hard time at all. It's more of an attitude of, "We knew this day would come. Good luck, and if you need references or anything feel free to ask." My paid jobs have generally been a bit more stubborn, like leaving insulted them.

Also, many unpaid internships give at least enough experience to have something to talk about in a job interview. I know my unpaid work was critical in landing a paid internship in January. While some people may take advantage of students and the poor work environment, you can't make a blanket statement and say every unpaid internship is unequivocally bad.

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You completely missed my point.

If unpaid internships become the norm, that is it becomes expected that a person has to perform a period of unpaid work as some kind of apprenticeship, then they will be forced to do so if they want a paid job at the end of it.

So I might walk away from an unpaid internship, but I'll still need to work unpaid in another internship until at such point employers deem that I've done my time.

Therefore the individual has no choice but to accept unpaid work - regardless of which company they happen to be working for.

It's a bad precedent that needs to be stamped out.

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Your argument applies equally well to any screening procedure - e.g., college degrees.

Do you believe that requiring/favoring people with college is also a bad precedent that needs to be stamped out?

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I think the value of a college degree as a screening procedure is in fact dropping. The potential value of college education is still high, but the piece of paper doesn't really give any insight into what value the student took. All it shows is that the student payed the fee (and probably is in debt) and put in his/her time.

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It is. But because it's not enshrined in law it'll be enforced by the market.

What skills do you really mean to ask for? If you waste time asking for things you think imply those skills other people will be out-recruiting you.

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    If people don't get enough from employers, who pays ?
I have a couple of problems with this, and will do my best to explain my reaction, but am not entirely happy with clarity.

I think you're making a static view of the world, and are not considering the dynamic of the system. Legislation like the minimum wage has an effect on the economic systems that you apply it to. It changes the numer and nature of employers, and the number and nature of employees.

It's impossible to measure the opportunity cost, but we can talk about the sort of costs we'll be taking. There are potential businesses that would exist if they could pay less than they do. This would create greater economic activity in general, and skill development. Both of these things which would feed back into stronger businesses and ultimately demand for labour, higher wages, lower tax.

The Internet should offer us awesome opportunities to reduce knowledge asymetry coming from labour being misallocated, or taken advantage of. Consider a version of linked-in that was oriented around networks that tried to offer and make contracts. You could see who worked with who, and then the contracts that were on offer. I doubt Linked-in will go in this direction - it would piss off recruiters. It'll happen though.

    Since when did a living wage for a day's work
    become a controversial issue ?
Outside of America, questioning this is one of those "things you can't say".

A politician who made these arguments in I'm putting is remarkable to survive at all, and definitely hated for life - Thatcher is the obvious example. The last change of power in Australia was caused by exactly these issues. Chile is lining up to have it out on these lines in the next year and will be interesting to watch.

The caricature of the right wing leader who's out to screw the workers to help the big end of town is like honey to the mindset of people who see themselves as victims, and who don't recognise that they are in control of their own fate.

There's always a labour movement party (run by teachers, lawyers and party workers) in there reminding people that they are victims, pushing those images, and suckling on the milk of votes that this easy play delivers.

Except in American - a country where labour flexibility and entreprenerialism are central to the culture.

Another evil I forgot to mention about minimum wage earier is the trap effect. Imagine your effective wage is worth less than minimum wage, but you've managed to land a dead-end job making minimum wage. Now you have a disincentive to refocus on something that would make you more valuable than minimum wage.

That pattern repeats at other levels of the economy. You sometimes see areas of government, banks or protected "national champion" businesses dominated by people who don't do much but also don't make trouble. They're keeping a low profile because the employer is able to pay too much because of the luxury of its legislative protections. Left unchecked, the good staff (who care about what they do) gradually leave for other gigs, and you get overrun by pretenders.

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>Another evil I forgot to mention about minimum wage earier is the trap effect. Imagine your effective wage is worth less than minimum wage, but you've managed to land a dead-end job making minimum wage. Now you have a disincentive to refocus on something that would make you more valuable than minimum wage.

There are plenty of incentives to make better than minimum wage. Minimum wage doesn't exactly net you a luxurious quality of life. On one hand, it makes sense that if you allow the purchase of labour to be completely subject to the rules of supply and demand, information about what is needed where and most efficiently will spread through the network of economic activities. But labour has several disadvantages when compared to other commodities. Focusing on just one, it is expensive and time consuming for a person to upgrade the kind of labour they can provide. Education isn't cheap, and you have to support yourself while you obtain it. Being able to earn minimum wage while going through school helps to open up the opportunity to learn more valuable skills for many people. Unless your intention is to leave people from disadvantaged economic backgrounds out in the cold and allow their difficulties to propagate from generation to generation, there needs to be some mechanism to level the playing field, if only a little. My own tendencies would be towards even more socialist measures than just the minimum wage, but at least it puts a floor on how bad things can get.

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    Being able to earn minimum wage while going through
    school helps to open up the opportunity to learn more
    valuable skills for many people. 
Yeah, that makes sense. Minimum wage gives those who have it a better opportunity to improve their situation than if they didn't have it, opposite to what I said in previous.

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Since when did a living wage for a day's work become a controversial issue?

It's a question of producing wealth. The value of a day's work depends upon the worker, but you can't seriously expect a business to pay someone more than the amount of wealth they create for them. If it's a fundamental human right to have a certain level of income, pass a law providing for a guaranteed minimum income and let businesses pay the market rate. It makes no sense to expect businesses to operate as charities.

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"Since when did a living wage for a day's work become a controversial issue ?"

You're joking right? Have you seen any of the immigration reform/debate over the last 5 years in the US? One of the primary arguments is over the availability of labor so cheap that not even prisoners will take the jobs.

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That's my point - why is it a controversial issue ? How did we go so low ?

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It's creeping in slowly here in Ireland. That's why I spoke up.

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when someone describes a politician they don't like as a "fascist" it's disrespectful to the memory of people who are squashed under tanks and who are taken in the night by state agents, raped and murdered.

I know this is veering off-topic, but I think it's worth pointing out that not every instance of the word "fascist" is disrespectful and to deny people the right to use it is just as destructive as when it is misused by people who don't properly understand what it means.

In many cases it is still appropriate and it should be used to call a spade a spade. For example, many European countries have political parties that are directly descended from the fascist political parties of the 20th century (e.g. [1]). They retain their objetives, ideals and often even their signature salute. There are several politicians in government right now that I personally dislike and that I describe as fascist because that's exactly what they are. Fascist politics existed for decades before WWII and they continue to exist decades after.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People%27s_Party_%28Spain%29

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My rule of thumb on whether it's appropriate to call someone fascist: would they label themselves as such? "Fascism" is a notoriously hard to define term -- there was never a "fascist manifesto" the way there was for communism.

Life is too short to argue with someone about what their political beliefs should be called. The British National Party is a bunch of wrong-headed jerks regardless of whether they're "fascist" or not, and every moment you spend arguing with them over whether they're really "fascist" is a moment you really should be arguing with 'em about why their policies are stupid.

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More examples: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_National_Party

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Reductio ad Hitlerum: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law

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Well, in this case, I eschewed Germanic examples! But you can consider it a reductio ad Francum if you like (and if my Latin grammar isn't too terrible).

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Along these lines, it doesn't fit to equate unpaid internships to serfdom. Serfdom involves effectively permanent, near total servitude to a landowner for most aspects of life.

Uh, wage slavery? How much of a person's salary is spent just on the basics such as food and clothing and gas and education?

The minimum wage is a horrible stain on a free society. It traps people with low skills out of work and cements them into an underclass that's much more difficult to break out of. It prevents business that are operating on the edge from continuing to operate. It's a classic example of do-gooders riding in and creating damage.

This is how the system is structured; there is a permanent underclass that will accept any wages. Even more educated people will lower their wage expectations when the economy appears bad. This means that companies can get cheaper labour at any time to pick up slack or as replacements if their current workers get too uppity and demand a living wage.

it locks out people who are in a worse situation - unempployed.

Unemployed is only bad if it means starvation or homelessness. In a socialist, communist, or anarchist society unemployment would be okay. Unemployed workers wouldn't starve, they would still be allowed to live, and they could take part-time jobs/unpaid internships and learn new skills without worrying about making ends meet.

There are much better avenues that would be cheaper and have more positive effect on people: basic risk, valuation and business skills being taught in early high-school, television campaigns that encourage people to think about how their labour is used, what they could do to make themselves marketable. Mechanisms to get people speaking English more effectively. Lower taxation. Effective technical colleges.

So your solution is to train people to become effective human resources for businesses to consume? That doesn't help. We already do that.

You're saying that workers need to learn how to be better workers so that they can prosper. You're saying that they should make themselves as appealing to businesses as possible and somehow, you're assuming that this will give them higher wages. The only reason people get higher wages is because they demand them either through a union or through an informal agreement with other workers that they won't work for less. This is true in the IT industry and is one of the reasons why IT workers don't see a need for a union. We all have agreed never to work for a shitty wage. We know that we can just take our skills elsewhere or start our own company or whatever because we stand up for ourselves.

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Unemployed is only bad if it means starvation or homelessness.

Psychological studies indicate that unemployment is bad even if you can still live comfortably. (A reliable stream of anecdotes for extreme variants of this observation comes from lottery winners.)

The thing is, HN is a very startup- and hacker-centric community. One of the properties of a hacker is that they always find something to occupy themselves with, even when they don't have a formal day job.

Most people are not like this. Once they're out of a job, they don't really know what to do with themselves. This causes them a lot of stress and unhappiness.

Over time, they will convince themselves that they are actually happy in their welfare-dependent unemployed state. We humans can so easily fool ourselves.

The truth is that for most people (but probably not for many of the HN-type) unemployment causes a lot of psychological suffering.

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When I chose a job that pays $x+y instead of $x, it's not because of an "informal agreement" with my fellow workers, it's because I'm a selfish guy and would rather have $x+y than $x. If all I could get was a shitty wage, I'd certainly take it over nothing (or start my own business, or learn more skills.)

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There's no such informal agreement at all, only individuals who know that they can earn better elsewhere. In other words, a market. The key to this is that IT workers actually generate enough wealth for their employers that it's worthwhile to pay us well. It's completely different from a union (which is basically a cartel).

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It traps people with low skills out of work

What exactly are these skills they lack that are needed in order to get work? Putting together a sandwich? Stacking boxes of food on a shelf? Putting dishes on a table and collecting them after they've been used?

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There appears to be quite a lot of people that lack the basic skill needed to work: follow simple instructions.

For example, in the streets in the UK we have signs saying things to the effect "don't litter", "don't let your dog crap here", etc., and there appear to be lots of folk that can't even get that right.

Anecdote: my elderly aunties friend is about 50 and mentally disabled; her speech is very difficult to understand and she has problems with anything beyond simple concepts. Her memory doesn't appear to work well. Until recently (her mother died and she's no longer capable of doing the work) she worked in a department store cafe clearing tables and doing some cleaning - she did the work set as long as it was clearly communicated and she did it with a smile. I'd guess that any member of the population that can stand and dress themselves could have done that job.

It's not much of a life clearing tables.

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Things like showing up on time every day, not goofing off, and not being a dick to the customers are what distinguish valuable employees at that level.

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"for which I was paid one gravis ultrasound ACE. I think I ended up better on the deal than the owner, but it was a close-run thing. ... Another time I was contracted to do a job for an oil company. It took me a month to do something that would now take me a day, and the end result was so bad that they got no return on investment of the the AUD 300 they paid me for the job."

You're undervaluing yourself.

Even if you did absolutely zero work that doesn't mean the company that "hired" you got zero value out of you.

They probably got some social benefits from having you around, making the place you worked at less lonely, and perhaps making some people at the company feel better about themselves for hiring an intern or gave them an opportunity to teach (which can help the teacher as well as the student). You probably also gave the other employees ideas and feedback, and may have tested some of the work they did (essentially acting as part of QA).

All of that is worth more than a cheap sound card or 300 AUD.

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It's fine to have no minimum wage, but then you need strong unions to ensure people get paid what they're actually worth. If you leave it up to the employees they will be at too much of a disadvantage.

Companies do everything they can to prevent market signals on what wages are worth so they can rip people off. Couple that with the fact that many people who are technically very good are not good at negotiation. A strong union (i.e. not what the US has) can help with these problems.

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"There's a temptation in politics to see patterns and then fit language to it that kind of fits"

...

"The minimum wage is a horrible stain on a free society."

Maybe not taking your own advice here?

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I did raise the point about discrimination at the end but it's easy to miss in the wall of text. I fully agree with Intern Aware http://www.internaware.org/ on the issue of discrimination

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Sorry, thanks for pointing it out. Good article that raises the issues with this appalling practice.

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I think there's even more to the parallel: many unpaid interns are kids coming from expensive schools with high levels of student debt.

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There's something going on here. I don't know about the US, but in the UK social mobility is actually worse than in the 1950s:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1555697/UK-one-of-wor...

So, you have a pattern where:

- More people are going into higher education

- We are in the middle of a deep recession

- As a consequence of these factors, there is less public money per student, so students have to pay more

- As another consequence, a degree is worth less than in previous decades

- Employers see a college/university degree as a requirement, even for jobs that don't really need them

- Unpaid internships are therefore seen as a differentiating factor when hiring graduates

So, in order to climb that greasy pole, you need a) the money to get a degree and b) the money to work unpaid while you gain experience. In the past, you had the option of starting work as a teenager and working your way up, or being one of the few to go to university and having your costs paid, with a good chance of a higher paid job at the end of it.

In this brave new world, these doors have been firmly closed to kids from poor families. Of course it benefits the rich kids and I wonder, half-jokingly, if this isn't an intended consequence of the richer Boomers ensuring an easier ride for their progeny without competition from the hoi polloi. In any case, I fear for the future of a country where advancement depends on connections and family money rather than ability.

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Review of a good primetime documentary about class mobility in Britain, including unpaid intern stuff: "Who Gets The Best Jobs? Review: Bank of Mum & Dad"

http://channelhopping.onthebox.com/2011/02/02/who-gets-the-b...

Some of the fallout: "Calvin Klein’s PR firm Modus admits on national TV: '20 of our 70 staff are unpaid interns'"

http://graduatefog.co.uk/2011/1230/calvin-klein-uniqlo-sienn...

Terrible youtube version starts at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNRP8xc5aFA

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Employers see a college/university degree as a requirement, even for jobs that don't really need them

Don't forget the classic, which I've seen come up during two crashes now: "Only accepting applicants with a degree from a top-ranked school." I don't know if you get that over there, but it seems to get really popular as soon as the economy tanks.

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The point of a sword tended to be involved in the process, money being less of a thing in the middle ages.

Anyway, your analogy will seem more believable we start to see the children of interns forced to work for the companies that their parent work for, interns being paid with tickets only redeemable at the company store, having to ask permission to marry, only being allowed to marry other employees, not being allowed to move off the company campus, etc... lots of a way to go on the road to serfdom.

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Your ignoring the use of collage students as interns. At many schools it's possible to get collage credit for internships. Also many companies use interns as a recruiting tool they might not get any net value from interns but they get to evaluate recruits for longer periods of time, which is not worth paying 7.25$ an hour for ~3 months. Anyway, legally you are required to pay interns that create net value for your company.

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If an internship is serfdom then college must be slavery.

Intern: skills + experience = $0

College: no skills + no experience = student loan

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And as usual, I disagree.

When I was just starting my career, I would have gladly worked for free as an intern to get my foot in the door of the industry. Now, I wouldn't have done it for -long-, but internships aren't supposed to last a long time. As it was, instead I spent a year unemployed, and then took a job as a stock clerk at a grocery store. That time would have been much better spent as an intern... Especially since I think I could have found a job after 3 months of being an intern. 6 at the most.

The reason his entire post is wrong is that the person DOES get something out of it. They get training (whether it was structured or not is a different matter) and they get experience. Guess what helps you get a job most in the IT industry? Experience.

As for being hired, any company worth their salt will offer a real job to anyone who shows skill. Job offers should never be automatic.

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It's easy to get an internship today. Douchebag companies who will not pay me at least a minimum wage can have someone completely clueless who knows nothing.

You can get experience and not get paid working on any large open source project. You'll probably get even better mentoring.

In fact, it's not that hard to get paid doing open source work now that you have GSoC.

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You may have been better off as an intern, but I could see the argument that if nobody's willing to work for free companies will have to pay a decent wage - a degree of collective bargaining by students and recent graduates who are unwilling to sell their summers for almost no money.

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Interns don't produce much output. They're inexperienced. What would take a professional a day to finish might take an intern 2 weeks, and take time from others to boot.

In that situation, the intern should be working for free (for the experience) and the company should consider any actual output to be compensation for the time spent having to help the intern along.

As the post's author noted, the 2 job descriptions he linked to do not fit the above criteria.

Any company that expects actual productivity from an intern is in the wrong.

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I'm not a software developer (researcher), but are there really no tasks simple enough for interns in your average software company? When I worked as a sysadmin for a couple of months, the two (paid) intern programmers seemed to do most of the work on some (small) contracts. They definitely had some things to learn, but they got it done (with some help) and were absolutely net positive.

Maybe we just had unusually good interns, though (this was in the Netherlands).

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Tasks that simple don't provide them any experience and we're back to paying them for work done.

Complicated tasks need guidance and take time. But they're great for experience.

It's not even that they're really hard tasks, but that there are so many little details to software develop that everyone treats like common sense, but it's not... Until you have experience.

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In this specific case, they created some simple Rails websites - one seems to have basically been a simple CMS (with a nice design) for a customer, another was an internal time tracking tool. Both had at least one (more-or-less harmless) WTF [1], but the customer seems to have been happy, time tracking worked, and they definitely learned something.

[1] To be fair, one was putting my sample code in production.

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"Tasks that simple don't provide them any experience"

Utter bullshit.

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Especially in the case of liberal arts internships. A programmer is one story - paid internships for essentially unskilled labor are very rare.

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What's wrong with paying at least the minimum wage to interns? I presume you can't claim unemployment benefit if working as an intern, so who is funding an interns living expenses? Unpaid work should be reserved for charitable organisations.

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You pay wages to employees. (IE People who produce efficient output.)

You pay experience to interns. (IE People who take time from efficient employees and produce little output.)

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Complete and utter bullshit.

When I started work I produced little output, because I was a newbie and knew nothing. I was paid just a little over minimum wage - but I still produced, even if it was crappy code and routine tasks nobody else wanted to do.

Companies used to do this all the time - you start at the bottom, fresh out of school, and you have to learn.

But you are still f*ing paid.

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Agreed, and not just for complete noobs.

If (as an experienced hire) you start a job somewhere enterprisey, the amount of bureaucracy and induction procedure you experience in your first week can mean that you won't be a productive employee for at least a week, if not two. You'll probably still be taking time from experienced employees for months. You still get paid.

In such a place, the first week of employment of an experienced hire is exactly the same as it is for an intern.

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These aren't comparable. One is an investment in the person that pays off over time, the other isn't.

Yes, an employee takes just as long to get up to speed as an intern, but hopefully that investment is paid off by years of work afterwards.

For a two or three month internship, you might spend half their time in getting them up to speed. And for that, you get the same amount of work (best case), then they are gone.

Yes, internships can be a great way of recruiting, probably the reason most companies do them at all, but saying that the upramp is comparable to normal FTEs is ignoring the fact that they aren't long term.

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The only reason they aren't comparable is because the intern is an intern. Not because the intern is a neophyte.

My point (possibly not particularly well made) was not that you should take on inexperienced pretend employees, treat them like real employees for three months, then get rid of them; but that you should take on inexperienced real employees and treat them like real employees.

Three months is a pretty normal probationary period for a real employee, so you can just as easily get rid of one if it doesn't work out; as you can an intern.

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You pay experience to interns

Very dependent on the type of internship. I saw one (unpaid) internship offering to give people experience working in a convience store. They basically wanted a normal employee to work as a cashier, but didn't want to pay them.

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For the record here's a screen grab of the "Get experience tidying a shop": http://www.broadsheet.ie/2011/05/17/no-salary/

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If you're not able to produce valuable output then there might be something wrong with your schooling. If you have studied already 3-4 years computer science than you can do something useful.

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Thanks for the reply. In the two examples I linked there was no mention of training. People were required to already have the skills required to do the work.

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I agree that those 2 examples are in the wrong. Especially the first one. Experience should never be a requirement for an internship, and a '1 day trial' is absolutely ridiculous for an internship.

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Unfortunatly the examples are the rule and not the exception here from the jobs I have seen advertised. Internships (in Ireland) are pretty much seen as "work for me for nothing" rather than any kind of learning experience.

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Perhaps it is different for design, but taking on an intern for a software shop is almost always a greater burden than benefit.

I interned at a few different places while in college, and I was definitely way ahead of the class as far as writing useful code. Regardless, the overhead of people bringing you up to speed on their specific projects and processes for only three months of work just doesn't match what you are going to contribute. The cold hard fact is that you are still junior, very junior, no matter how much a hotshot you think you are. So the time they put into you makes it a pretty even trade for it not to be paid.

Though come to think of it, both internships I went to were paid. But the point stands.

To put it simpler terms, ask any company whether they find new college graduates effective and worth the overhead for the first few months they work. I doubt many would say yes, and those are people more qualified than those seeking internships.

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I did a six month (paid) internship when I was in uni and after two weeks of "training", we were pair programming with the fulltime employees. By month three, I was working on core services that are still in use by the company now.

So, interns are definitely not always a burden, but I certainly do understand that they often would be, but to be honest, you get what you pay for - if it had been an unpaid internship, I'd have had very little incentive to really put much effort into it. I mean, months of unpaid work would be demoralizing and I'd probably quickly have ended up producing little of value.. Luckily it never came to that and I ended up going back to work at the company for another 1.75 years, before I left to try out the world of freelancing and startups.

For the record, that company hires between two and five interns every year. They find it effective enough to keep doing it. They treat it as much as a hiring thing as a cheap labor thing and they find having (paid) interns to be pretty effective.

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Six months is definitely different, I would agree that in that time you can become effective.

In a way you are agreeing though, as you said, it took two months for you to be working on core services, so there is a significant ramp up time. If we are talking about a summer internship then it is questionable whether you will really add more value than extract. This is irrespective of ability level and just the reality of getting to know an organizations processes, codebase, etc..

In any case, I'm not quite sure what the article's beef is. If there was no market for unpaid internships, then there wouldn't be any. Clearly some interns are finding it worth their while enough to go work for free.

Do totally agree that it is an absolutely awesome funnel for candidates though, and worth drawing those candidates in via pay or other fringe benefits.

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Well, I was working on core services, together with fulltime employees (pair programming), after the first two weeks and at the time, they did a lot of pair programming anyway. After two months, I was basically working on my own, but I like to think that I added value much sooner.

Having said that, I don't disagree - it definitely does have a rampup time and I don't disagree with that theres a market and value in unpaid internships, especially short term ones - I'm just saying that I also think theres value for employers and candidates alike in paid internships too.

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In software, if your company is any good, you hire good iterns and pay them a good wage to get an edge on hiring them once they graduate.

Plus, if you're hiring good interns, they will absolutely benefit you if you let them. Sometimes hugely.

An intern made Joel Spolsky several million dollars: http://www.inc.com/magazine/20090101/how-hard-could-it-be-th...

Not saying I was any good or my employer was any good, but at my first internship I wrote software in my free time that ended up saving the company tens of thousands of dollars a month.

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That overhead you're speaking of is present with bringing anyone onto a project, not just interns.

I actually went to a school that required every student in my program to do a minimum of 1 year of paid internships (split into 3 and 6 month blocks). Judging by how abundant and competitive the companies looking for interns were I'd say they found it very much worth the overhead.

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In general, a shop that wanted to make very much money off of interns would have to have them work on new code(any sizable code base is going to take a while to get up to speed on), and/or hire only excellent students (though in this case they wouldn't have the option of not paying, good programmers never have to work cheap).

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In my city, it was customary for the university to place students in four-month work terms during the summer for them to get experience. One manager of a software company told me that they basically only took students from these as community service as in the best case they would break even.

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At my organization, we used to have unpaid internships for college students, but they would receive college credit. We thought that was still kinda B.S., so we found some money and created paid internships.

Back in the day, when I started my career, to get my foot in the door, I worked at a temp agency. "Word processing" was all the rage and they needed people who knew how to use Microsoft Word. After a couple of months the boss noticed I knew how to spell "glaciolacustrine" correctly, so he asked if I had a degree. A couple months later I was hired. All the time I was getting paid $10/hr.

That's the way firms should be finding and cultivating young talent: paid internships, temp services, and recruiting. Unpaid internships are indeed bullshit.

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I work in academia. In academia, we pay crap, especially to the people at the bottom of the totem pole.

But even we pay our summer interns.

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Perhaps this thread has gone too long, but the comments are overwhelmingly against doing work for free.

TL;DR - It’s an interns fault for taking crap free work, in essence putting their future in someone else’s hands.

My experience: 3 years ago I was an accountant and thought about killing myself nearly every day. It used to take me 10 - 15 minutes to get out of my car every morning just to walk inside. I was able to use free work to transition from a boring career to one I enjoy in an incredibly short amount of time.

Rather than go back to school only to finish in debt and start at the bottom I was able to trade valuable work that I could do (finance/accounting) for experience in work that I wanted to do (development/data analysis). I would always suggest short projects so as not to overwhelm either party, but this turned out to be very favorable in the long run. One major caveat is that these were not company created internships. I wasn’t in the business of letting a company compile all of their shitty work only to pass it off on someone to do for free. THAT IS WHAT NEEDS TO BE CALLED BULLSHIT ON.

If a job seeker shows just a little initiative they can force free work to have a training component that is defined in advance and one from which they will benefit. Too many workers put their future in someone else’s hands by assuming the company has some training program mapped out for them. Not surprisingly, these are exactly the types of employees who continue the cycle of useless and exploitative internships that you rail against.

If you are doing work for free, YOU are on the hook. You hold most of the cards because there is nothing forcing you to continue working.

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Companies tend to save money at all costs, even at the expense of decency and Doing The Right Thing™. It's the same reason a lot of them have clauses in their contracts forbidding people from discussing their wages, even though it is in the employees' interests to do so.

I figured something out when thinking about this one day - where you're going is how you'll get there. If your goal is to make money, your goal is greed and your path will be a greedy one. If your goal is to make a positive contribution to those around you and get one back in return, then you will still make money but won't step on peoples' toes in the process.

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As this is Ireland I've got to assume there is also an element of trying to reduce the numbers who are technically unemployed and so make things look better. It sounds very familiar to the community employment schemes etc. from the '80s where people basically worked for their unemployment benefit so as to gain work experience / help the community. I can even remember being turned down at an interview for one of these way back when and feeling pretty bad. In the end some people will gain something & some people will be exploited but it wont make much difference to the economy other than to help drive down wages.

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I'm not sure if you can be on the unemployment register and still work in an internship. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the government isn't looking too deeply into the situation because it keeps the dole numbers down.

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It's not a problem for IT students. I could choose from many offers in my city. At our forums we laugh from low paid offers and I haven't seen unpaid one. I ended up going to different country and earn 1,1k euro with no real experience at all and I extended it during crisis (it was few years ago) so I guess I was useful.

If you really can't find anything it's better to make nice portfolio projects for yourself at home or work on some opensource project. It's similar experience but feels much better than working as slave for some awful company that can't even afford small wage.

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My experience is that a number of larger companies is paying rather well for internships of people 1 or 2 years from graduation. I had a great half a year in southern france on the cost of one of them (small flat, benefits and a final performance bonus included).

They see it as gambling money: if they find a good guy, they will try to hold on him. Otherwise, even a 1k wage doesn't really cost them much.

Also: Good interns usually are not available for hire after their studies, so its money well invested.

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Even Wal Mart will pay you while training you. If a company cannot meet that standard, something is wrong, imo.

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The place I'm currently contracting in (mentioned in article) has their summer intern programme in full swing.

Not only are the guys getting decent pay but they are building a useful in-house app while getting trained up in technologies like OS X, Linux, Git, Ruby, Rails, MongoDB etc.

Win-win!

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30-day free trials are for software. People deserve more respect.

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But interns aren't producing anything (if they are, it's not an internship). The idea is they are learning. If they are producing things the company then uses to sell, they should get paid. But I've seen interns that literally follow around, take notes, ask questions.

So, why should someone be paid for not contributing to the bottom line?

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> But interns aren't producing anything (if they are, it's not an internship).

That seems like a false dichotomy.

I'm at an internship right now getting paid quite well and I'm contributing to their bottom line (albeit indirectly since I am working on internal tools). I'm also learning quite a lot.

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Same here as well. Though, probably not getting paid quite as much as an intern at Bloomberg. Still great money for an internship and I too am working on internal tools, which earned me a decent raise.

Paid internships are great for folks like you and me. In school with some good foundations in programming but really need to learn a lot more. The best opportunity for that is on internal tools where if we screw something up it won't be customer-facing and potentially lose money.

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Sorry, I should have been explicit (though, I feel I was fairly obvious).

unpaid interships aren't producing anything. If you are getting paid, then it's not really relevant to the discussion of "unpaid internships."

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Whatever point you thought you were making, you weren't. And even if you were, it certainly wasn't obvious.

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No. I was correct. Interns producing something of value to the company have to be paid, otherwise it's illegal. If you are getting paid, then the discussion doesn't involve you.

Sorry if you don't understand. Your ignorance doesn't make me wrong.

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I know, I know, it's everyone else's fault they misunderstood you.

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Everyone else?

Regardless, being right has nothing to do with popularity. I mean, enough people watch Fox News. Besides, I'm not the one support unpaid interns doing illegal work. And before you try to chime in with some quip about straw man, unpaid internships are the topic, not paid work. It's what my comment was about. A few people disagreed.

Whatever. Go back to your "popularity makes it right" way of life.

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This past year I followed a web development course. I'm now supposed to work 3 months for free. I don't mind it because I've been jobless for a long time before. The problem is, I just can't find an employer (in France). I get the interviews, but my interviewer always assumes that I'm supposed to know everything by heart, have nothing more to learn, and more importantly, they want to see a portfolio of sites I've done before other than the one I've done in class. Basically, they don't want an intern, they want a real, super-fast worker for free. So I'm going to fail at my diploma because nobody wants me to work for free for them. To make it worse, I'm the best student of my class. Those who can't code found an internship. Are we supposed to lie and bluff to be allowed to be exploited?

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Did you try remote work?

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While I think it's horrible if companies don't pay interns, I can see how the "you're learning things!" angle could seem more reasonable in the US.

My outside view is that a lot of Americans pay thousands of dollars to go to university.

Universities are, for a lot of people, just a means for learning a discipline and giving them more/better possibilities in a future job search.

While most internships aren't as "prestigious" as a university degree, they probably don't cost as much either.

In the end, both of them will have allowed you to make some new contacts, learn trade-specific things and add a new slot on your résumé.

p.s. this certainly doesn't go for all professions/internships. But the general direction seems about right.

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0 is just one number along a range of numbers - it's not particularly special. In some cultures, it's considered normal to exchange not just free labor to get your foot in the door, but to actually pay cash to do so.

I am not convinced it's a net win for society.

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Wow. We hire almost every intern that works for us, unless they suck. Internships are also normally done pre-graduation from college. It is not a job, it is in exchange for college credit. We hire the day they graduate.

But it is also up to the intern to decide whether or not our internship is right for them. A overgeneralized diatribe like the one posted is aiming to get people to not intern at all, whereas the appropriate act would be to critically evaluate your options, and make an informed decision about each specific company.

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In my school, we call them "co-op jobs". If you sign up for co-op, you get college credit for them, but either way you get paid. And of course if you're any good, your co-op employers will want to hang onto you after you graduate. I didn't bother signing up for co-op because co-op or no, it's impossible to complete all the other graduation requirements and not have enough credits. So the credits you get from a co-op job are useless. Students pay money to the school to be part of the co-op program, and that's not unusual. Here, it's $400 for a once a week class that teaches you how to make a resume plus an additional ~$100 fee if you find a job, even if you didn't use the school's connections to find it. If your internship results in college credit, its likely that students are actually losing money by working for you. I think that's absurd.

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You also inadvertently prove a more subtle point of internships. Employees who offer the greatest value are ones who are engaged with the company and want to be part of it. If someone doesn't think enough of us to want to go through the trouble of an internship, and think working for us is absurd, then they would not have been a good fit anyway. No loss to us if they don't work with us.

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Paying money to work for anyone is absurd. I don't care if your company is the best thing since sliced bread. It isn't worth going homeless, nor is it worth taking on tens of thousands extra in loans to (a) support myself while providing you with free labor and (b) cover other expenses I could've paid for out of pocket if I'd been paid fairly, such as tuition. If free internships became standard, it would put students from low-income families at a serious disadvantage. Who needs meritocracy when we can make a caste system? Hopefully, your company will be successful, so you can afford to pay all your kids' expenses and put them through unpaid internships of their own.

I want to be able to buy gas and keep my car maintained so I can actually come to work, so I'm not "engaged". If I want to pay enough of my tuition up-front so that when I graduate I can afford to work for small companies doing interesting projects, instead of auctioning myself to the highest bidder to cover my loan payments, then I'm a "bad fit". So be it, I guess.

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I don't think even the worst 19th century robber-baron would have stooped so low as to consider asking his minions to pay for the privilege of working for him.

There is much talk of a "sense of entitlement" when talking of young people today. I've not seen much evidence of that, but what I have seen is a "sense of entitlement" among companies - many of whom are certainly not hard up - with regard to taking on untrained employees.

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Personally I got a lot of value out of my unpaid internships (Kate Spade & Sports Illustrated). Though I understand the reasons against it, I got to a) work with a great team, b) make some great business contacts for future job referrals, and c) get experience that looked great on my resume.

That said, I completely understand that my experience was the exception rather than the rule. Plus, both companies I interned at most likely could have afforded to pay me too.

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In Germany I often see unpaid interns, but actually not in a bad situation. There are 2 situations in Germany when an unpaid internship will happen: One is, when the students working as interns are still going to their schools and maybe are first or second semesters. So actually they don't really create value, but they cost time, energy, working hours of coworkers, electricity, rent and so on. The company basically already pays a load to have this intern sitting there and a high chance to get no value back in return. I think in this situation it is quite fair, not to pay wages.

The second situation is, when students try to get a job, which a lot of people want to have, like at Google, Price Waterhouse Coopers and so on. In this situation the brand alone will help them out later to get better jobs or even give them a chance for a full time job in this company that others can't get. It's a little like doing a start-up. You put in a lot for the small chance to get a unnatural big payoff.

In both situations I can't disapprove of unpaid internships. I hope with sharing these experiences, other readers might get a more objective point of view. It is not all bad about unpaid internships!

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I've had friends who wanted to get into journalism and publishing and the only way they could do it was by working for free for several months. Not even 'internships', just free work. Eventually, there were vacancies and they were the obvious hires.

I'm not suggesting this was fair but it was a pretty clear case of supply outstripping demand, which meant that employers could afford to let the system develop this way.

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I can't find the article right now, but there have been studies about and there is evidence for that many people will do something for free, but if offered to be paid a market rate that is low for the same work, will not do it. In fact, they'll be insulted by the low value ascribed to it.

Personally I would feel like an a-hole offering someone minimum wage to do intern-level work at our startup. Nor would I want it on my resume that I worked as a web developer for $8/hour. They do not want a market price that low on their skills. They'd rather have a free internship on paper.

That said, it does all depend on context. In fact during high school I worked in a bio lab for free for about 50 hours and then asked for a paid internship (which was minimum wage) during the summer. However I was a high-schooler, so this was cool. But I would not have taken (and in fact turned down) low-paying jobs after college. So I can see that context does matter, and I don't think it's fair to rip on all unpaid internships with the same stroke.

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The whole low pay versus free psychology thing is tricky. It also depends on how the pay is structured. If you offer it as a low hourly rate, it'll probably be rejected, as opposed to working for some lumpsum at the end (or split into two). The second is typically more acceptable. Then instead of feeling like their labour is worth minimal wage, they feel like they're being paid for finishing a job.

shrug worked on me. 600 dollars for a parttime research thing during school for a term that worked out to $9 an hour, felt way better split into 2x300.

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Last summer, I took an unpaid internship at a software company, if it can be called an internship. I was introduced to someone who worked there, and he got it worked out for me. I didn't work on core stuff for the company, so maybe it was less an internship than just hanging out in the offices while I worked on an open-source project relevant to them, specifically github.com/andrewf/pcap2har .

I learned a crap-load of stuff there, technical and otherwise. I am enormously better off having taken that opportunity. Would I have been worse off if I had worked on stuff that directly made them money? No.

My friend has left to work on his own startup, but I started this week as a paid intern. I hope to keep working part-time when I start school again.

I cant speak for other people's experience with less-scrupulous employers, but I have nothing but gratitude for the people who gave me my unpaid internship.

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Passing judgment on all unpaid internships in all situations is unreasonable. When deciding whether to accept an unpaid internship, common sense is the best guide.

I've seen both unpaid and paid interns treated poorly. I've also seen both thrive. I personally had 2 paid internships before I graduated college. One was demeaning and the other an incredible learning experience.

If an unpaid opportunity offers a lot and you can afford to take it, why not? How is this different than contributing to open source or doing pro bono for charities?

However, if a company doesn't want to pay, I'd suggest more caution. Ask lots of questions, and if you end up just getting people coffee, quit. Interns are working professionals just like anyone else and deserve equal respect.

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Companies often don't pay interns for 2 reasons: 1. They don't think they can afford to give them responsibility, and with no responsibility = no pay. This is a terrible relationship. (no pay = no responsibility as well) 2. They know that if it's unpaid - it's likely that only people very interested will apply - and this signal is, supposedly, very strong.

The 3 MAJOR problems are: 1. The company is sending a signal that says, "we don't trust you", "we don't think you can do valuable work", "and we don't value you enough to pay you" 2. The company gets lower skilled people, because the good ones get the jobs with good experience AND pay 3. Have you EVER tried to get a volunteer to do anything?! It's impossible. Incentives are not aligned.

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In the US at least, there are many opportunities for paid internships. All the major tech companies offer them - Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Zynga, Boeing, Lockheed, etc - and many of the smaller ones do (though in smaller numbers). At almost all of them, interns are treated as normal engineers and put on teams as basically full time employees with an end date ~3-4 months after they start. They are paid very well (competitive with what a FT employee would make for 3 months). The internship can, and in many cases, does result in a full time or reintern offer.

The thing is, you have to be able to cut it and basically interview as someone who they would WANT to hire as a FT after a year or two more experience.

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This is what I learned from a half-day legal seminar in california aimed at startups:

In California, unless the work is for course credit at an established institution, an intern must be paid minimum wage. If not, the intern can do the work, and then file with the state, which will then do all the investigation. The intern doesnt need to get a laywer. They get the state's lawyers looking for a hefty fine, back taxes, and the opportunity to audit the hell out of someone. Start-ups are especially vulnerable to this because programmers who would normally be exempt probably aren't making enough and should be paid overtime. The state doesn't care what those programmers want. They want their back taxes.

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I had a paid internship but would have gladly done it unpaid if I had to. I interned at a big name place, so YMMV, but I can say that senior year when I was looking for jobs _no one_ cared about what I did in school and _everyone_ cared what I did at that internship.

You are not going to work there to do slave labor, you're getting bullet points on your resume, mentorship from senior engineers, as well as taking in the business environment which you've probably never seen before.

I hope no college student who can't find another option has decided to stick his nose up at an unpaid internship because of this post.

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There's a great book that came out recently, Intern Nation, it's the first exposé on this issue that I'm aware of. It is fantastic, totally engaging, covers all of the many aspects of the internship problem and its genesis.

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The CV still rules when it comes to getting past HR departments and into interview. The HR departments (and employment agencies) I've worked with look directly at the Work Experience section of a CV and then tick off a bunch of boxes for the job they're trying to fill. Unpaid internships are one way to fill a CV with relevant experience. Find a way to bridge that gap and you don't need to do an unpaid internship. I went through 3 months of unpaid work with an ugly little company for exactly this reason, and it paid off, but those were the most trying 3 months of my professional career.

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The problem is part informational. Grads take internships in the _hope_ it will lead to a job. For most it doesn't. Hope is perennial, so more bums can always be found for seats.

Banning them is unlikely in most countries as it's politically unrealistic. Exhorting companies not to do it is unreliable. So not easy to close off intern demand.

Tackling the supply side might be a better bet. The answer might be in educating grads to mentally file internships alongside diet pills and pyramid schemes. Providing alternatives also good (but more difficult).

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In the US there's two very different sorts of internships.

The first is what you describe, scamming desperate people during a economic depression out of free skilled labor that has monetary value to the company.

The second is internships at places like magazines, newspapers and politicians offices. These ones are more interesting. Poor people and minorities can't afford to work for a year for free. But the children of the rich can. The internship provides cover to avoid having to hire minorities since hiring takes place from the internship pool.

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Poor people and minorities can't afford to work for a year for free

Poor people and minorities? So minorities, even if they happen to be individually rich, can't afford to work for a year for free?

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Thanks. To clarify, certain classes of minorities, because of endemic racism, are statistically less financially able to work for free for a year. These are the sorts of types of minorities that certain kinds of firms don't want to hire, but also don't want to be held accountable. Unpaid internships, to which said minorities, and the poor (including white trash) do not apply, act as a filtering mechanism to make sure only the right sorts of blue blooded folks end up getting hired.

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Totally true; I did an unpaid internship for a startup and didn't learn a thing(actually they where doing a verrrry bad software engineering job). The advantage was that I didn't really had to work much & I got grades for the internship @unif. But I wouldn't do it again.

I felt under valuated, I can make really complex s/w architectures, solve complex, challenging problems & I was doing work that I could've done as a 14 year old during the internship..

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I'm very desperate to join a startup as an intern or employee. Some of us (me) have been dreaming (literally) about being in a startup that it doesn't matter what we do, as long as we get in one. It's gotten to the point where I would even pay to be in one. What I get out of it is that I will see if a startup is right for me, and at this point that's all I can ask for.

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While in college i chased a small design studio you have never heard of to take me as an unpaid intern. I learnt loads just watching them run a studio and work with clients. I do not see how they could possibly have justified paying me for the little value i gave back. Still gratefull for the opportunity they gave me.

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I'm currently in my sixth and final year of pharmacy school which consists entirely of clinical rotations at different practice sites in the area. Not only are these internships completely unpaid, we have to pay ~$30k for the priviledge which equates to almost $1000/week (6 x 6 week rotations). It's a complete scam.

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Are CS students not cynical enough? Compared to, say engineers (non-software)? Or is it just the effect of fierce and deep competition?

Or perhaps the potential for learning a lot (practical knowledge) in a short time is greater in software dev work than others?

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The only reason for me to do an unpaid internship would be to do it a 'brand-name' company. You do see the best practices, meet an amazing team and it might lead to an eventual job with the company.

For an unknown company - not a chance.

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A "brand-name" company that can't even afford to pay you minimum wage is not worthy of that brand.

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Brand name companies like Enron, WorldCom, Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns...

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'Brand name' companies don't play games with employment law and the IRS. They pay their interns.

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It's all relative and depends entirely on how much you put into it and how much your employer does the same. I've had friends who've taken unpaid internships and have gotten entirely different experiences out of it.

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If someone tells me I wont be paid..but still i want to take up that work ? why blame

But if someone fresh grad is duped into believing doing unpaid work will get him something else then its bad.

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If products can be free so can interns.

Look at it as a freemium model.

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Unlike your web app, your employment practices are subject to federal and state laws, and to the tax code. Give someone work an employee would normally do, and which isn't educational, and you must pay them. Fail to pay them and the IRS will be after you for payroll taxes and severe penalties.

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People are not products.

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technically, you are when you are looking for a job. You need to market and sell yourself to the highest bidder.

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If you're not paid, you're not valued. Nothing you produce will ever be good enough. Nobody will make time for you, because they have more valuable things to spend their time on. No money is lost if you're struggling to do your assignments; no money is lost if you don't learn anything.

A company should be invested into their interns and the best way to be invested is by paying them a wage and expecting decent work in return.

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I have to disagree with calling unpaid internships a rip-off.

As a student, I see this as a way of getting something on the resume to break the catch-22 situation of having zero experience.

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As a student who worked during most of his studies: a low-paying job gives you as much experience and is definitely preferable.

With most of my bosses, I had the following deal: "I have no experience, so every task lasts as long as I think I need. You pay a low wage, so if you hit one of the points where I am actually experienced: you make a good cut. If you assign me to tasks where I have to learn everything: you make a bad cut." It worked great, if you know the line where you shouldn't force those terms.

Its a business and working for free is harmful to everyone who wants to make a living from it.

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I'm confused. Who forces people to work for free?

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When down voting, please explain.

If working as an unpaid intern is indeed horrible and so incredibly lacking in non-monetary value, then people will learn there is no reason to voluntarily engage (or continue) in such a relationship.

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This guy clearly never had a company.

We do not pay our interns and still lose money in the process if we don't hire them after because we have lost too much time not just training but also fixing errors people at their first experience will do.

Nevertheless we still invest on internships because that's the only way to snap good talent just out of university.

So please, stop the bullshit. Yeah, and downvote away.

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Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the idea of an internship about learning, not about producing? If your producing for the company something they are selling (or creating net value), don't you have to get paid? I mean, people here are talking about actually working on projects the company is earning money for. That's not an internship.

Am I clueless, or are other people just ignorant?

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If you're in the US, you're absolutely right, and other people are ignorant. You can't use unpaid interns like free workers, even for menial work like updating websites or e-mailing prospects... yet several HN regulars have advocated doing exactly that before. It's not legal.

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Are you making a moral argument, or a legal one? If legal, what country?

The "idea of an internship" is experience and networking if you're the intern, recruiting if you're a smart company, and free/cheap labor if you're a dumb company.

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It's a matter of legality in the United States.

"Among those criteria are that the internship should be similar to the training given in a vocational school or academic institution, that the intern does not displace regular paid workers and that the employer 'derives no immediate advantage' from the intern’s activities [. . .]" https://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/03/business/03intern.html

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If you become an unpaid intern, then you better be learning 10 new things per day that you couldn't have learnd any other way. I can see where interning where be beneficial for both individual, company and society. However in the vast majority of cases the intern is just getting ripped off.

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I don't know why there aren't more low-level tech jobs for college students. I paid for a couple years of state school by working in a deli. The only jobs I saw that would hire a "college kid" were on campus, and those basically boiled down to having the right connections as soon as you arrived. No longer a freshman and nothing related on your resume? Not interested.

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