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Unpaid Internships: Bad for Students, Bad for Workers, Bad for Society (theatlantic.com)
80 points by waxymonkeyfrog 1670 days ago | hide | past | web | 107 comments | favorite



Do we have a good economic narrative for unpaid internships outside of naturally abusive talent driven industries (music, film, journalism)?

Do internships just fall in this hole where you'd like to have an office wench but can't quite justify it in a budget, or is it entirely a made up social convention where older generations are extracting rents from new graduates?

At any rate, the effect seems pretty clear to me: unpaid internships are huge drivers of inequality. They obviously limit opportunities for social mobility towards people that can be subsidized, or otherwise have access to liquidity. There's something really insidious about pushing people away from increasingly wide classes of cushy jobs they're otherwise perfectly capable of performing.

Startups: pay your (non technical) interns minimum wage, at least. It makes me kind enraged to see this start to happen in our industry.


"... unpaid internships are huge drivers of inequality."

I believe that they can be, but as someone who actually had an unpaid intern (and who eventually got said intern a job at the company where we were working), let me make a case that they do not have to be exploitative.

I personally enjoy teaching, and have taught at two different universities. In addition to simply being a rewarding thing to do, it is a good way to get even better at whatever you are teaching.

So when I was the production manager in charge of making a bunch of marketing sites for small insurance agencies, I called up one of the local universities. They were quite happy (after some conversations with their faculty) to send me a student who was getting ready to graduate and who was interested in creating content for the web.

I didn't expect the intern to get any actual work done, just to kind of try and work through some of the projects that we were doing. The work that I was giving him was pretty much the same work that the paid staff were getting, and although we actually did end up using elements of his designs he was much slower and had a much smaller skill set than someone I would actually hire.

However, after a semester of working with us, his markup, scripting, and associated skills were a lot better. In addition to his own efforts, I spent time structuring his work assignments in ways that built from one topic to the next, and was available to critique his work in ways that he found useful.

So, this relationship was mutually beneficial: he is more skilled than he was, has at least some work experience to put down (other than food service), he received course credit (IIRC), and got a picture of what the inside of that kind of agency looks like.

For our part, we got a very small amount of marginal work, and for my personal part I improved my own scripting and CSS skills, in addition to simply enjoying working with folks who are learning.

Now, if we were just trying to fill a minimally skilled position with someone who was an employee and skim by calling them an "intern" instead of "an exploited worker", that would be different.

But I believe it is possible (though perhaps not likely) that unpaid, non-exploitative internship relationships can exist.


Ok, so you didn't exploit that worker. Congratulations.

But what about the other kid who may or may not have been more qualified than the kid you hired, but couldn't afford to work for free?


This is not a useful argument. If we consider the unpaid internship in question a learning experience, and we compare a kid who can afford to work for free and a kid who cannot, all we conclude is "the kid who has more free time, gets in more learning". Is this a radical, unethical situation? I don't think so.

Besides, if we assume the work produced by the intern is of negligible to zero value, and we still decide to force companies to pay for such interns, in the current work environment they will simply stop offering them. This seems like a net loss to me.


Wait, what are you saying? Employment should be predicated on the employer giving the employee an adequate monetary reward in exchange for an adequate monetary reward for the employee? And if either side isn't getting their adequate monetary reward, the job shouldn't exist? This is a radical concept!

Seriously though, perhaps I'm just cynical, but I seriously doubt that such internships won't be offered. Companies get monetary gain from interns, otherwise they wouldn't spend any time and effort on them (even if not money). I think the simpler answer is that companies are just cheap. I mean, experience is great and all, but if money is being made off of a person's labor, then they deserve my cut. How large that cut should be is up for negotiation, but that they deserve a cut shouldn't be.


I agree individuals ought to get a cut if they benefit the company, but what if that benefit is only worth $2/hr?


Hire them part-time.


Well, what about the folks who also couldn't afford to go to the school that the guy was going to?

I mean, ultimately, the big obvious problem of capitalism is that the upkeep of labor is pushed onto the laborer... almost to the point where (to a very small extent) it could be possible that forcing labor to pay for its upkeep while exploiting it for profit is a defining characteristic of capitalism.

While I find it to be an interesting discussion, unless you want to decry systematic problems, you're really not going far enough with your "what about".

And we don't have to do everything within that system, do we? I mean, isn't direct action a good response to large, systematic problems?

"Wait, what are you saying? Employment should be predicated on the employer giving the employee an adequate monetary reward in exchange for an adequate monetary reward for the employee? And if either side isn't getting their adequate monetary reward, the job shouldn't exist? This is a radical concept!"

No, my point is that an internship is not a"job", interns shouldn't be treated like "employees", and that I was trading, based on my experience as a both a teacher and an expert in the content area for a personal reward of getting to teach for a bit.

When internships are equivocal with jobs, they are exploitative. I agree with you and the linked article on that.

What is not exploitative is when there is an actual exchange of, say, useful information and pedagogy in a system where you can't learn techniques without making stuff, especially in a way that privileged the growth of both a specific person and a larger workforce.


Sorry, what are you saying? Capitalism is an imperfect system, therefore we should stop trying to make it better? I mean, of course capitalism has systemic problems. And many of those are the result of an education system that rewards those who are already well off. I think banning unpaid internships would go a long way towards making capitalism a better system.


Fair enough.

But I am not saying that we shouldn't make it better (though if it would ceases to function in favor of some yet unnamed better thing, I will be much happier than if it were merely "better").

However, once you want to talk about freedom in the labor market, it should be pretty clear that there is none at all: what about me? Through no fault of my own, I can't afford to commute into a city, so I occasionally lose work and make less than I otherwise would.

But since we really can't do much about these systematic issues on an individual level, I can respect your stance towards banning unpaid internships outright: seems like an okay idea to me.

I am not saying that we should make reforms.

I am saying that it's possible to modify how capitalism operates by means other than banning practices, that is, by improving what people are doing with unpaid internships by 1) not treating them as labor in any sense and 2) not making their exchange about money.

Or if you prefer, why internships at all: why not abolish the whole concept of underpaid, low skilled labor and -only- hire "employees" at a real rate while working on helping them gain newer and better skill sets?


Yes, an internship is a job. You work for an employer. That makes it a job. Pay the hell up.


How is arguing that "free" is too low any different than arguing "X" dollars is too low and should be more? If the marginal product of the interns labor is more than what is offered, then competing companies will bid up the wage rate until it equals the MPL. How is this a special case that is immune to the effects of supply/demand?


Unfortunately, that "law" has failed to play out in real life. Also, why is the company hiring if the net benefit to them from the intern's labor is nothing?

http://img25.imageshack.us/img25/114/31740564320cb174fabflz1...

http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/42041000/gif/_42041256...

http://www.realitysandwich.com/fantasy_finance

http://www.frbsf.org/publications/economics/letter/2004/el20...


I think that one of the key points here is that he did get "something". He got course credit. The college felt that the work he was doing in industry was worth "something" towards his education (which it most certainly was). So he paid for course credit, did the "classwork" (internship), and got the credit he earned. If he had not gotten any course credit and was simply doing it for the experience, I'm not liking that situation. Surely, almost ANYTHING, people do for your business is worth minimum wage.


Sounds much like an unpaid apprentice.


Internships aren't for making money, they're for gaining experience. Getting paid for them is nice, but the experience is the important part.

For some companies having to pay interns would just mean they wouldn't offer internships at all.

The reason interns are paid less (or not at all) is that there are lower expectations for interns and other staff usually has to take time to mentor them or check their work.

Maybe not the best example, but if a new paid employee says, "No, I've never used source control, what's that about?" it's a big problem. If an intern says it, you explain it and move on.


Maybe not the best example, but if a new paid employee says, "No, I've never used source control, what's that about?" it's a big problem. If an intern says it, you explain it and move on.

And thus it came to pass that the unpaid internship replaced the entry-level job.

I know there's no point in pleading with an economically rational capitalist like yourself, but stop exploiting the proletariat, or one of these days we won't even walk into your damned office.


"... one of these days we won't even walk into your damned office."

If you don't think you're being treated fair, that's exactly what you should do. Duh.


This is honest to god one of the stupidest comments I've ever read anywhere. "Exploiting the proletariat?" Are you fucking kidding me?

I got a half semester worth of college credit for various internships and wouldn't have my current job (or subsequently my car or home) had I not had it.

Go back to Mother Russia and leave the thinking to the adults.


"Exploiting the proletariat?" Are you fucking kidding me?

You think it's not exploitation to have to work without being paid? Are you fucking kidding me?


I agree, it simpler for a dev to see inequality here, my friend has his company, they don't pay internship because generally the interns is too junior to work on anything alone, and sometimes even cost him money taking times from other dev explaining stuff.

Not only that, the intern will have to learn a lot of things he did not learn at school because it's not the market reality.

If they did a good job they generally get a nice gift (like an ipad) and sometimes a job.

Granted we have no Harvard around, i guess it could be different but, I don't think unpaid intern are dramatic at all, rarely an intern can do as well a job that even a 2 years experienced guy does.


From what I hear unpaid internships are common for law students as well. It would be interesting to do more research on this, but I suspect unpaid internships happen in any field that has a surplus of workers. The tech industry doesn't have this problem so most internships are paid.


Narrative? Any company is going to take free labor if they can get away with it. The problem here is the clear contravention of labor laws.


Yes. But why is this a new situation? What's changed about the economy if this is only now becoming standard practice?

Is there really a large glut of recent graduates and a corresponding lack of new jobs, or is this just a collective action problem where since recent graduates can't reject unpaid internships en masse we're stuck in a race to the bottom?

Do we offer unpaid internships because there are just so many people willing to work for free, or do we offer unpaid internships because there are people willing to work for free and everyone else is also doing it?

We're only one or two steps away from reverse paid internships, or looking at them as investments. "Seeking executive assistant. Minimum MBA or equivalent post-graduate degree. First one to pony up $20k gets it".


It didn't happen over night. We're in a situation where there is little alternative for new graduates. 20 years ago you were special if you went to college, today its just a prereq to not have your resume thrown directly in the trash. Additionally no emphasis is placed on career or skill-learning at college, it's a place to study things that interest you (which I'm all in favor of, but the realities of the world are that the demand for people who know a lot about 16th century literature is low).

So we have millions of kids graduating college with no discernable skills, and an industrial economy that is all but dead. Perfect ground for exploitation of these kids who just want to get their foot in the door of some place that has air conditioning and decent medical benefits.


Is there really a large glut of recent graduates and a corresponding lack of new jobs, or is this just a collective action problem where since recent graduates can't reject unpaid internships en masse we're stuck in a race to the bottom?

Both. That's the way the labor market has always been: a collective-action problem where any one worker can undercut living standards for everyone else in their field whenever supply outnumbers demand. The answer to the problem, traditionally, has been to unionize.

We're only one or two steps away from reverse paid internships, or looking at them as investments. "Seeking executive assistant. Minimum MBA or equivalent post-graduate degree. First one to pony up $20k gets it".

Which is going to be the point where the Protestant Work Ethic finally breaks down and America's youth goes on strike. I'm looking forward to it.


I think it's much simpler than that. I think it's just that businesses like having free labor. It's much cheaper than paying people, isn't it?


This brings up the question of a value derived from intern's presence. At my first employer out of college non-technical departments hired (unpaid) interns willy-nilly, figuring half of them would turn out to be bozos competent only to run a copy machine or fetch coffee for the team.

Since engineering department paid their interns, they always had to work out some project plans and business necessity in order to have the position(s) open for the summer. So kinda obvious that many students did not get a chance to intern, as with paid internships the company was way more frugal and selective.


I hope your last sentence is meant to suggest technical interns should be paid above minimum wage, rather than that only non-techs should be paid fairly?


I think that goes without saying; technical interns are in high enough demand that if you're not paying minimum wage they have options elsewhere.


Where I am (midwest USA) technical interns are typically paid at least twice minimum wage; offer anything less than 175% minimum wage and engineering students will dismiss you entirely.


As I understand it he's commenting more on the internships discussed in the article, those in the film/music/publishing industries, that typically go unpaid.


I don't buy the argument that unpaid internships are immoral because they disadvantage the underprivileged. Higher education systematically disadvantages the underprivileged, especially at US tuition rates. Does that make going to Harvard unethical? There is clearly a supply/demand mismatch in some industries, and unpaid internships are a symptom, not the cause.

I get defensive when the issue of unpaid internships comes up because I did an unpaid internship in High School, learned a hell of a lot, and was able to use it to gain well-paid internships throughout college.


Honestly comparing an unpaid internship in High School is no where near the same as requiring 20-somethings in college and university to work for free. I also did the unpaid internship thing in high school (which turned in a paid job) and I did a fully paid internships in University. I could not afford to work for free as an 18 year old on my own.

It's amazing that in a country with a minimum wage it's still possible to hire people for a job for free.


I'm not saying anything about requiring 20-somethings to work for free. I couldn't have afforded to work for free in college either. I agree that it's a different situation.

My point is that I was able to make an informed decision to take an unpaid position, and it benefited me. Had it been a paid position, it either wouldn't have been offered (the department didn't have a lot of money) or would have gone to someone else with more experience. So when people advocate for unpaid internships to be banned, I get frustrated, especially when they say it's for the intern's benefit.

Don't get me wrong, it absolutely sucks that it's possible (market-wise) to hire university grads for nothing, but banning unpaid internships doesn't solve the underlying market problem. And I'd argue that it doesn't increase social mobility, either, since floor/ceiling prices tend to encourage nepotism.


There's currently high unemployment -- could we not eliminate that by making the minimum wage be zero? I'm sure lots of currently out of work individuals would take the opportunity to work for nothing for the off chance of getting a paying job in the future. Isn't that exactly the same thing?

I don't believe it's a market problem, it's a social problem. You have this pool of ever increasing free labor not because of the market but because it's now necessary to intern to get a job. If an employer has to choose between someone who will work for free or someone who won't because they can easily get a paying job at Starbucks, who are they going to choose?


I'd expect that Harvard has at least some scholarships/grants for underprivileged students. Unpaid internships offer no such niceties.


That's fair, but it's still far easier to get a brand-name education in the USA if you come from a middle/upper-class background.


Unpaid internships seem to be rare for programmers...

- Programmers of any sort who can get the job done in demand. There are more people who want to pay them than programmers available.

- Even inexperienced programmers add value - sometimes a tremendous amount of value. It's not too hard to find a non-critical, short term project that would still be very useful, and the intern starts adding value on day one. So employers are less likely to "do without" if it turns out they have to pay.

- Software interns have a better unpaid internship than the one you're offering - founding their own company. If a recent grad with programming ability is getting outside financial help (the kind that a parent might give to a recent grad doing an unpaid internship in the entertainment industry), that programmer can just try creating an app and seeing how to turn it into something financially viable. They might fail (they probably will fail), but will the experience be worse than a year of not getting paid at a bigco? (It depends, but a lot of companies in high tech would be impressed with someone who took a real crack at creating a financially viable product).

I do occasionally see postings for unpaid cs/engineering internships, posted on campus bulletin boards. They are almost never from actual, high tech companies. These postings generally come from industries accustomed to getting the free interns (publishing, fashion, and so forth) - you know "gain valuable industry experience by writing extenstions in python for our CMS). It feels good to see these posts go up later offering a bit of pay (though still generally much lower than the interns could get elsewhere).


Internships are for people with a knowledge about, but not direct experience in some thing. That can apply as easily to programming as it can journalism.


It can apply to journalism, but as easily as programming? It's hard to say, this is an interesting question. I think it boils down to this: how easily can a person from the outside gain experience in a field?

There's a wide spectrum here. In software, it has become (especially in recent years) extremely easy to write and release an application to the world. Web sites, wireless apps, and so forth. So if you're going to work "for free", you really don't need to join a big organization to get that experience. I'm not saying there couldn't be benefits, but you could almost look at a startup as an unpaid internship working for yourself with massive upside.

On the other side of the spectrum you might find something like surgery. I heard about a man who knew how perform a procedure on infants, who was later discovered to not possess the right credentials and licensing. He had "learned by doing." I guess you could view much of medical school and residency as a non-paid (or low paid) internship in a field where many people believe it would be unconscionable to sidestep the normal training.

How hard is it to just launch your own fashion line, create your own "journalism" experience by starting a blog, and so forth? The world is opening up - certainly it's getting easier and easier to create, market, and distribute without the permission or help of a large organization. I think software is at the forefront, but certainly other fields are opening up as well.


Why should students who aren't able to get paid internships be denied the right to have an unpaid internship? I would not be where I am today were it not for unpaid internships.

Some people would be helped by mandating all internships be paid, but these are not the people who need the most help. The people who need the most help are the ones that would be cut off from any chance at early work experience by such a system.

The idea of everyone having a paid internship is nice, but many places will simply stop offering them if unpaid interns aren't an option.

Also, no one is forcing these students to work anywhere. Yes, market forces drive them towards an internship, but there are many internships in the market.

If unpaid internships were banned or otherwise made illegal, companies could still bring in students as volunteers, which are unpaid. They would still get the same experience and be in exactly the same position, except now they are no longer eligible for college credit and certain legal protections. How is that a better system?

Are there any compelling arguments why unpaid internships should be made illegal? If not illegal, then how should/could they be reformed?


I got paid during my internship and when I later started a company we always paid our interns.

I think as a general rule internships should be paid simply because if the company can't afford to hire an intern then they shouldn't be having one in the first place.

I realize it's a nice way to get some help for your struggling business and if someone really want to get in to a place that isn't looking for interns then it makes some sense.


I agree completely. To be honest I don't even understand how it's legal (I'm in the EU). I think through some kind of academia-related loophole.


Organisations have decided that this specific set of internships aren't worth paying a wage for. Workers have decided that they are worth their time, for the experience/foot in the door they gain.

If you ban unpaid internships, companies won't offer the positions anymore (as they have decided their value is zero), which means people seeking them won't be able to obtain them.

Sounds like everyone would actually be worse-off.


I can't speak directly about the tech industry, but this is absolutely not the case in architecture and engineering. Your tasks may not be the most critical part of any project, but they are incredibly time intensive and would otherwise cost the firm a huge chunk of money. CAD monkeys are the quickest example, although physical model builders get quite a share of gruntwork as well. Outsourcing that work costs tens of thousands per project, but a 2nd year masters student will do it for free because it's the only way to get their IDP hours to sit for the licensing exam.

There have been many discussions about this between architects and these days there are just some firms that have a reputation for churning through interns for free labor... Banning them is a tense subject for many, but many have taken the stance that after some period of months/years such practices are unethical. I can't recall the AIA's official stance.


You mean a sizable subset of workers have decided they're worth their time. I think it's worth bringing up Maslowe's hierarchy of needs. If you can't afford to eat or pay rent, the experience you're getting is among the least of your concerns. If your food and rent situation is taken care of beforehand (and it's almost always done so by someone else), then you get to base your decision on whether or not the time is worth the experience.


This dilemma applies to everyone. If you can't afford to do what you want, then earn money doing something else until you can. Alternatively, do both at the same time, using your earned money to simultaneously subsidise your time doing the other thing.

It's also possible that you decide this unpaid experience is just not worth it after all, in which case you can get a job that actually pays.


Organisations have decided that this specific set of internships aren't worth paying a wage for. ... If you ban unpaid internships, companies won't offer the positions anymore.

That depends upon the demand curve for internship labor. If the demand is perfectly elastic, no internships will be offered at a higher wage; if the demand is somewhat elastic, less internships will be offered; and if the demand is inelastic, the number of offered internships will be unchanged.

What we are observing is a single data point: the intersection between the supply and demand curves. We cannot extrapolate the full curves from it. That organizations aren't paying for internships under present circumstances, doesn't mean that they wouldn't pay for internships under different circumstances. All it means is that the organizations have the upper hand in the transaction.


Thanks for raising this point. I didn't think about this.


By that logic, we should pass a law saying that you never have to pay employees if you don't want to. The number of jobs will simply explode!


Not as crazy as you think. Many economists support this.


You are thinking of the Chicago and Austrian school economists on the subject of the minimum wage. We're not talking about minimum wages, except in the sense that they should be above zero. We are talking about the requirement that companies pay workers at all.

Do you expect people to just slowly starve to death for the sheer joy of toiling away?


Cool! So, you're a smart guy, what do you think will really happen if companies are given the choice to pay employees anything they want, including nothing.

I graduated with a shitty major and I worked for free. I volunteered at a lab, to help get me some experience. I could've been doing something else, but hey, I couldn't get a job!

But now that I have a skill, and that skill is in demand... I'm imagining that I would just up and leave if I was told I wasn't going to get paid anything.

I would expect that people would just leave their jobs. Companies would learn that they can grab great quality employees if they pay them with profits.

It's not as complicated as you think, and I have no idea why you're trying to pin the absurd situation of people starving while toiling away on this policy. There are already lots of opportunities for people to work for free (volunteer groups, church organizations) yet we don't have people mindlessly working themselves to death.


When there are more jobs than workers, companies have to pay well to attract workers.

But when you construct an intern economy in which people are paid in the hope of a future "real job", you are suppressing the number of real, paying jobs. You are thus exacerbating the labor glut in these fields.


Err what? Not as crazy... Care to back this statement up with references to said "economists"?

If you give organizations the option to employ people and just randomly decide not to pay them, they will at every opportunity NOT pay time. This is basic logic... the motivators for the organization propel this behavior and the American market system will reward them for it - these economists you speak of are likely cracked.


Nearly every economist on the planet recognizes that minimum wage laws are net counter-productive. They are great for the limited number of people who happen to snag one of these over-paying jobs, but they are not so great for all the other people whose skills are not worth that amount, and are thus made unemployable.

And, as you can see in basically every position where government hasn't mandated that employers pay some minimum wage, organizations do not choose to pay people zero. Ever. They choose to pay people just enough to perform the work that needs doing. Sometimes that number is $10 per hour, sometimes that number is $24,000,000 per year.


To be more clear: many economists think there should be no minimum wage because it sets an artificial floor on the market. An unpaid intern is earning what the market will bear. Put another way, they are paying for an education with time instead of money.

http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/MinimumWages.html


The free market actually doesn't reward this behaviour.

Consider that organisations that decide not to pay their workers might very well lose out to those who do.

If Organisation A doesn't pay their workers, then all my organisation has to do to steal their productive workers is to offer a wage. Organisation A loses out and eventually has to shut down, while I and the workers win.


Your decision to offer a wage IS the market. Its no different than paying more for a stock than I am willing to do. I might wish I could get Google at $10, but the market shuts me out.

Once upon a time there were a lot of companies that allowed you to "get paid to surf the web!" They are all out of business or have different models because they were overvaluing those assets.


Oh bullshit. If Organization A doesn't pay its workers, Organization B will notice that Organization A has gotten away with it. Then, Organization B will stop paying their workers, since after all, each employer who stops paying increases the degree of monopsony buying labor for zero.


There is an assumption underlying my premise: that organisations are in competition with one another. I think that's a fair assumption to make.

I would expect that competing organisations would do anything legal to give them a leg up over the competition, including the hiring of workers they consider productive away from the competition. It's too risky otherwise; all it takes is for some other organisation to offer wages, causing both organisations A and B to lose their productive workers.

Do you disagree with that?


Yes, I disagree. Again: employers know that each employer who stops paying any wages reinforces the non-paying equilibrium by increasing the price-point-zero oligopsony.

Market dynamics work as you described when buyers are required to actually pay something.


Honest question: can you point to any example in history where this has happened?

I ask because, if your theory of how labor markets work is valid, it would seem that every professional sports team on the planet would be willing to reward you handsomely if you could demonstrate how this works in practice.


Honest question: can you point to any example in history where this has happened?

All periods of labor glut when it has been legal. In order for competition to force wages up (above zero, at least), there must on some level be more jobs than workers.


1. You didn't answer the question. Can you point to any example in history of this EVER happening? I'll take any example.

2. This is patently false. Even if there were 0 jobs, wages would not be zero. People simply won't work without some incentive. If I want you to go out and dig a hole in the ground, I either need to reward you for doing so, or find a way to convince you that you want to dig that hole of your own free will.


This is just abolishing the minimum wage. Since most people don't get paid the minimum wage this would only affect a small number of workers. But the main benefit is that currently unemployable people would actually be able to get hired.


If a job isn't productive enough to provide for the upkeep of the worker (ie: to pay a living wage), why should it exist? At that point, the worker's slow-motion death (or the welfare money society pays to prevent that) are just subsidizing a ridiculously unproductive employer.


By your logic no part-time hourly-wage work should ever exist.


Oh, if the employer can provide a liveable income in 20 hours/week, I've got no problem with that!

But yes, it simply shouldn't exist. Well, maybe we can allow an exemption based on age or legal dependency status for teenage kids earning extra money at a movie theater. In that case, though, the parents are basically subsidizing the movie theater.


What if I have a spare 8 hours a week (say, Saturdays), and want to use them every week to earn some extra cash (at say $12 an hour, coming out to an extra $96 a week). Should I be prevented from doing this?


Yes, because it results in employers "playing games" with the distinction between full-time and part-time to avoid having to give a living wage and benefits.


This is odd: just today I've posted our internship projects and they are all for paid positions.

And actually nowadays all students are forced by the University to have a short internship and it doesn't have to include a wage!

But I've decided to pay the students anyhow for 2 simple reasons:

* I want good students to apply. We are a small company.

* I want students to care more about the internship than just showing up and do the minimum.


Are internships with The Atlantic paid or unpaid?

Edit: According to this article: http://www.dailyfinance.com/2010/04/06/atlantic-publisher-ta... all atlantic interns are paid.


I worked for Atlantic Media (this is a throwaway), and based on my experience there, that organization is harmed just as badly by its low-paid internships as it would be if they did not pay at all. A significant portion of the drudgery is performed by interns, and the company is very reluctant to hire new people. And they get away with it because of the bright-eyed college kids who will do this for low-pay. Few to none of the interns come back for a permanent position.

The corporate attitude at Atlantic Media is that people are generally expendable, and that the staff on-hand will pick up the slack when pissed off employees walk out the door. So most of the work there is performed by underpaid interns and underpaid, disgruntled employees.


I have a friend who interned with them. They also give actual offers to distinguished candidates, which though it should be relatively standard is often not the case.


Feel free to comment, I want to hear what other people think on this issue.

I think there is nothing inherently wrong with unpaid internships. If the market price for your work is low enough to only compensate experience gained, that's perfectly fine. What's wrong with the system are more generalize than that, and there are two problems that causes it. I would break it down to A) industrial organizational problem and B) market downturn (and to an extent upturn) + inefficiency and lagging effects.

Part A is more about the over abundance of certain firms in the market supply-demand that makes it very difficult to pay interns. Since I've never worked as a unpaid-intern before (it might happen soon though :/), correct me if I'm wrong, but most of them are either in marketing, legal assistant positions, or journalism. Marketing firms that do not offer paid internships are usually small agencies that are barely able to survive on their own; same thing is true with journalism; the whole legal market has wage flooring that artificially reduces the supply of laws and therefore law firms. It seems to me that these industries needs to better allocate and either become more competitive via innovation, and people going into those industry might want to reconsider their path.

Part B is more on the fact that labor market is inherently inefficient, and in a recession, it exaggerates the underlining problem in part A. This is why we are starting to see more unpaid internship instead of flat wage cuts.


I was an unpaid intern at a lobbying office last summer and will be an unpaid congressional intern this summer (both DC). However, my college has given me a stipend (sort of merit based) so I can end up net positive on the summer.

I certainly wouldn't be able to afford this if it weren't for the stipend (though I'd probably do it for less and just break even or slightly negative). The biggest thing that I think is different for my intern experience from what I hear about the horrors about unpaid interns is that I get money like a paid intern, but have the expectations of an unpaid intern. The people I work for aren't paying me, so they can't expect too much labor out of me. As far as they're concerned, their payment is in experience, so I basically got free reign to do (or watch other people do) many things that might not be productive, but I found interesting. The anecdotal evidence of my friends with paid positions had to really earn their pay and don't have anywhere near the freedom that I did. It's plausible that I just found a good internship last summer (no fetching coffee), but I would say that I personally benefited from being paid by my college and not my employer.


As a Junior who is going to be interning with undisclosed large internet company this summer, I think that much of the problem and reason for unpaid internships is that there are few jobs in the industry of choice for these interns. Being a double Major in Computer Science and Business Economics I can clearly see the economic forces at play(and really anyone should). These unpaid positions are springing up in industries that are often shrinking, or do not require overly talented skill sets to operate in. It's unfortunate for the workers, and I'd like to say they should be standing up and saying "no", but given the realities of their industries it may sadly be in their best interests to work for free.

Had they simply looked ahead when enrolling in college, they could have seen that majoring in something like journalism, while enjoyable would lead to brutal competition and low wages. This isn't a situation all interns face, when those in finance, computers, and a few other majors are capable of demanding $25-$35k of compensation for 3 months of a summer internship, it becomes clear this is problem affecting only some industries.


is this really an issue in the tech industry? I'm studying in austria, absolved an internship in germany, got paid quite well and so did all my fellow students (internships all over europe, US, australia).


Here in the Netherlands, from what I gather, it's the norm, yes. My gf did all of her internships for free, and the place I work at now pays something like 200 euros/month to their interns, which comprise almost half of our staff. They do pretty great work, too - definitely comparable with what a full-time employee produces.

Comparing it to the one internship I did while at university in the UK, where I worked at UBS for a summer and was paid enough to buy bottles of champagne at a bar on pay day to celebrate and go shopping at Harrods, it seems pretty unfair.


Mainly an issue outside of tech, I believe. With the kinds of wages that Microsoft/Google/IBM/nVidia/Facebook/Oracle/etc. pay interns, it's going to be pretty difficult to recruit good interns with an offer of $0, unless circumstances are pretty unusual (unusual location, some kind of super-hot niche product, etc.).


In my experience - no. I have worked at startups ranging in size from 3 to 20 developers and funding from 25k incubator grants to multimillion dollar series A, and never have I gone unpaid. The two YC companies I applied to and received offers for this summer also offered pay, and Google, Microsoft, et al all have very competitive offers.


I guess it's more a question of local tradition than a question of which industry you're in. As far as I can gather, in Sweden unpaid internship are the norm. In France, the situation is a bit more mixed. Some people pay well, others pay the strict legal minimum (0 or 400€, depending on the total duration).


My most recent product management hire in NYC was doing unpaid internships for four different startups when I hired him.

I partially hired him for his drive and experience, so it's hard to argue he didn't benefit from the internships, but it still doesn't sit right with me.


400€/month. Paid the rent and some living costs. Non-technical internship. The other place I interviewed at and was named the pay I would have gotten 300€/month or so. (That's in Germany, by the way.)

Both was ok for me. I was still a student, so paying a bit less than I needed to survive on that wage alone was ok. It shows appreciation of my work and trust in me.


In most cases, an unpaid internship is probably a bad idea. But individuals should be making that choice based on their unique set of circumstances and goals. Individuals should be free to make a choice whether or not the experience they gain, the connections they make, the resume blurb, and whether getting their foot in the door is worth more to them than their free labor. In most cases its probably a bad idea, but in some cases some people might see the opportunity as worth their effort.

IMO, the issue here is that labor laws prevent companies from offering unpaid internships that involve something that a business can actually benefit from or that can conceivably displace a paid employee. Ostensibly created to prevent exploitation, these labor laws actually create exploitation by effectively forcing an unpaid internship to be an exercise in busy work for any company that actually follows the law.


One premise of this article is faulty. They presume that you can only accept an unpaid internship if you're from a wealthy / privileged family or whatever. But that's not true. There's no particular reason you couldn't, say, work an unpaid internship 8 hours during the day, and work a second job at night, busing tables, washing dishes, working as a barista at Starbucks, or whatever. Plenty of people already work 2 jobs to make ends meet, so a college age kid with (hopefully) minimal living expenses could very likely manage this.

Note that I'm talking summer internship, when school is out, of course. I'm not proposing one should go to school, work a real job and work an internship.

This is also not to refute the idea that unpaid internships may be bad for other reasons... I'm just arguing against the idea that they're bad because they are only available to the children of the privileged.


Carrying on two jobs is technically possible but it would still be remarkably difficult and I think unrealistic to do this. The argument that the system overly benefits the wealthy is still valid.


Carrying on two jobs is technically possible but it would still be remarkably difficult and I think unrealistic to do this.

Difficult? Yes. Unrealistic? I don't think so, based on my own experiences and those of people I've known. You'd be surprised what people can do when they're sufficiently motivated.

Hell, I had a friend in college who would walk / hitchhike the 12-14 miles or so from his home to school, and back, while simultaneously working a graveyard shift job. I also worked the same graveyard shift job and while slogging my way through college. Don't underestimate people who are truly unhappy with their circumstances and who are really committed to changing them.

The argument that the system overly benefits the wealthy is still valid.

OK, life is easier if you "come from money." I don't think this is any newsbreak, nor is the internship situation particularly special in this regard.

Try this as a thought experiment though... some kid who comes from a poor family, who has little or no wealth, who is trying to bootstrap / self-fund a startup. If he/she had the opportunity to engage some help from an unpaid intern, and the combination results in a company that ultimately raises the standard of living for the entrepreneur, and creates more paying jobs in the future (possibly including the intern in question), then isn't that a Good Thing?


Realistically many single parents work two or even more jobs to make ends meet.


That's because the alternative is homelessness. The alternative to an unpaid internship is taking a job you don't like. Not nearly as powerful a motivator.


Well no. The alternative to an unpaid internship, for most of the people actually stuck in unpaid internships, is unemployment.


More interesting than the topic I think is their method of creating three daily articles. Ask for comments, sort the comments into pros and cons, then publish each on subsequent days with minimal commentary, and no pay offered to the people who actually crowdsourced the writing of the article.


Who gives a crap? Honestly: If you do not like the idea of being an unpaid intern, then don't be one.

What's not a worthwhile opportunity for you might be an opportunity to someone else.

Am I missing something? Seems like unpaid internships affect me and my job/economy as much as someone else eating a donut affects my weight.


Honestly, if you don't like reading articles that complain about interns who aren't paid, don't read them. What's not a worthwhile opportunity for you might be an opportunity for someone else.

In all seriousness, unpaid internships benefit no one other than the employer who gets free labor and the few students who have enough money to not care whether they get paid or not. They're not good for paid workers who now have to start salary negotiations with the other side upset that they even have to pay them at all. Nor are they good for the economy, which needs more consumer demand. And they certainly aren't good for students who are well-qualified, but can't afford to not get a pay check.

Help me understand how unpaid internships aren't a mechanism to keep the rich rich and to keep the poor from becoming productive members of society. Seriously.


A good unpaid internship is the beginning of an apprenticeship: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apprenticeship

If the internship does not lead to future employment at the same organization, then it might at another organization.

A bad unpaid internship should go unfilled because the intern is not gaining anything from it.


The main "how this affects me" argument is establishing a culture of unpaid interns encourages the practice, which will snowball to the point of virtually requiring X years as an unpaid intern to get a job, anywhere.

Of course this doesn't affect senior employees with twenty years of experience under their belts, but that doesn't mean it isn't a concern for the greater good.


Who gives a crap? Honestly: If you do not like the idea of being an unpaid intern, then don't be one.

Unpaid internships undermine the entire legal and moral principle that workers are supposed to be paid. There's a reason we have minimum-wage laws, and of course, anti-slavery laws.


Bullshit.

A requirement of slavery is to both be forced to work and not have a choice of where you work (google it).

And don't get me started on moral principles. Moral principles are each person's own. Certainly you do not want to be held to _my_ moral principles, right? Why should anyone else be held to someone else's? If the moral principles are strong enough turn them into law.

The only question that is genuine is the law. So if the law allows unpaid internships, why whine about it?

For the record, I would not be where I am if I had not had a chance to do for free what I now do for a living. But that's just my experience.


And if internships had the relevant laws actually enforced, you would have been paid to do what you now do for a living.

For God's sake, how could you call yourself a moral person if you take 100% of the product of another person's labor, leaving them nothing to live on?


It's not the idea that offends, it's the practicality. I had to turn down an unpaid internship in my early twenties because I couldn't make ends meet otherwise. I ended up going into a completely different field. I'm happy with my current profession, but I occasionally wonder "what if..."


Yeah, that was your choice. In my case I stuck it out and am really happy with my choice as well.

That's the whole point: Choice.


Sounds to me like drumdance didn't have a choice. The whole point is unpaid internships are by nature not even an option for many.


If Zynga figures they can get free labor, your salary may take a drop, or at least stagnate.


Zynga _could_ get free labor if they wanted. People from all over are continually interested in working here.


This isn't about getting random volunteers from the internet.

This is about every new hire coming in the door at $0 and thus lowering the cap on your salary progression.




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