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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 05:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
In France very low-paid stages are common. For engineers, typically the one between their first and second years is a stage ouvrier which for a current student has recently involved sluicing out boats in Nice harbour. However, I managed to wangle my way out of that (having had a gap year in which I'd spent 13 weeks doing apprentice training on lathes, grinders, milling machines, soldering etc. and 13 weeks working on the shop-floor re-designing stuff, writing documentation, and trying to get the place up to ISO 9000 specification) and got three research-y (not well-paid, but enough to pay the rent and to do plenty of sightseeing if I was willing to walk most places, which in Paris isn't difficult) stages instead, which I will never regret as they have been the only office jobs I've ever had that haven't had me wanting to tear my hair out within weeks. The working environment is just so much better than in England (or at least it was then).

The culture of unpaid internships has now hit the UK in many fields, as well of course as the long-term unemployed being forced to work for free. There's a reason I left the UK ... and politics had a lot to do with it. Now I live in an anomalously right-wing/centrist town in a hugely radically left-wing (US politicians would say communist, but the Parti Communist is something else entirely) and fiercely nationalistic (being a frequently invaded small island does that to places, I find) area. When I try to talk about the social problems there are in the UK, people think I'm making them up (the streets here are not, frex, littered with seriously damaged homeless veterans from two certain mad wars, so it's hard for them to imagine what it would be like to live in such a place).

For all I'm having a bit of trouble settling in and making friends, I know in the long run this is a better place to be .... (and making friends isn't something that just happens overnight anyway; acquaintances, maybe, but friends are a long-term investment!)

Sorry for tangential ramble; am waiting for painkillers to kick in so can go back to sleep, but thought maybe a weird lefty European (and I think I am now weird lefty even by European standards) comment might be interesting.
Edited Date: 12 Oct 2011 05:57 am (UTC)


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