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"How Unpaid Internships Perpetuate Rampant Inequality in the US," by Anna Lekas Miller

Recent graduates, disturbed by the dearth of job opportunities, began to take internships as a last resort to stay competitive in the labor market. Although an internship used to be akin to an apprenticeship—a temporary stint of unpaid, hands-on labor resulting in an eventual job offer—the explosion of both college students and recent graduates taking internships no longer guarantees a paid position. Instead, as more and more young people demonstrated they were willing to supply an unpaid labor force so long as it was framed as an “internship,” internships have become a means for companies and non-profit organizations to re-package once paying jobs and cut corners in a tight economy.

Internships are the new entry-level job—the same duties and basic experience, only this time without compensation or benefits.
Unpaid internships were common when I was in college in the early 1980s, but I refused to take one. I had an idea that it was important for me to work for a paycheck. Nevertheless, my parents and I paid for my first career job in three ways: (1) I got a bachelor's degree (my parents paid my tuition); (2) I went to the Denver Publishing Institute summer program (my parents paid my tuition); (3) I took an entry level publishing job that paid $10K a year to start, which didn't cover my expenses (and my expenses didn't include student loans). However, the job did have health benefits.

I see that the long and venerable tradition of paying for entry into a career path continues, although it sounds like it's somewhat worse than it used to be. Another excerpt:
It's becoming more and more expected for college students to have had at least one, if not several, internships by the time they graduate. Students that come from a privileged background, with parents who are willing and able to finance sometimes serial internships, are able to survive in internship culture financially unscathed. Eventually, they intern for long enough to make the connections necessary to break into the white-collar world. But students from lower- or even middle-income backgrounds feel financially stressed taking on unpaid work, but many do anyway to compete with their more privileged peers in the job market.

Date: 12 Oct 2011 03:18 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] gmdreia
The whole nature of entering into the workforce has changed. Many schools now accommodate people who are employees, so in many respects it's possibly better to work your way through - a future lawyer might get into secretarial or clerk work, then get certified as a paralegal, then go to law school. A future computer programmer might do well to do a lower level job in the field.

That said, plenty of people know this stuff, but the average liberal-arts/creative/writing/psychology person -does not know this-. Hell, even some law students don't. It may also be helpful to have a "back up" - which is advice they always tell us creatives, but they don't tell most liberal arts students. If a person won't be qualified to get a job without a degree, they won't be much more qualified with one.

Another mistake that young students frequently make... They don't network while they're still in school. This is one of those areas where school does not teach life skills.

What older students know, that younger ones frequently don't.

It's better to do the crap jobs and free work before the student loan debt starts rolling in, than after.


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