A friend of mine made a comment in a recent conversation that got me thinking.
As we discussed exciting elements of our upcoming senior year, we immediately began to lament the need to search for jobs in a jobless market. She’s currently working three (yes, three) internship positions this summer – all are unpaid. Aware of the grim state of the current economy and dismal availability of prospective jobs, she joked, “I think I’m just going to end up as a professional intern for the rest of my life!”
My laughter quickly turned into a nervous giggle that forced me to pause. It came as a shock to become fully aware of the fact that we are members of the so-called “me” generation that is already doomed as over-qualified and under-paid. Wait – underpaid is an overstatement – we’re not even paid.
Now, raise your hand if you are working as an intern this summer and not receiving a paycheck. Raise your hand if you are paying to work as an intern this summer.
Reluctantly raising your hand? Statistics show that you are not alone. In fact, this article in the New York Times reveals that getting paid as an intern is becoming a luxury:
Three-quarters of the 10 million students enrolled in America’s four-year colleges and universities will work as interns at least once before graduating, according to the College Employment Research Institute. Between one-third and half will get no compensation for their efforts, a study by the research firm Intern Bridge found.
In regards to those of you paying your university to work for for-profit companies, the US Department of Labor is beginning to question the validity of earning course credit in return for work because you are excluded from protective laws against harassment and discrimination, as the article further discusses.
Questions concerning the legality of unpaid internships are beginning to circulate, and universities who benefit from giving course credit for interns’ work are eager to turn away negative attention. (Thirteen university presidents went so far as to write a letter to the Department of Labor reminding them of the educational value of internships for course credit, which you can read about here.)
As members of the current generation of interns, we must pause and ask: is this fair? Is it fair to subject nearly half of us to no pay when we are all working 40-hour weeks? Why are we happily providing free labor for high grossing companies when there is no guarantee for protection, let alone a full-time job in the future?
While it’s easy to argue the necessity of experience and networking, as my entire purpose of contributing to this blog is to ensure that you reach your potential in these areas, this issue is definitely one to consider.
And, no need to despair, some researchers have recognized increasing evidence that our experience and education will be highly valued in years to come. Undeniably, the slow market and high rates of unemployment among recent grads have justified our lack of confidence in the prospect of securing a job, but the Director of the National Association of Colleges and Employers provides a more hopeful portrayal of the future in this interview.
I encourage you to comment with your personal opinion, and to check out Ross Perlin’s new book, Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy, which critically analyzes these important questions.