The unpaid internship is widely perceived as a necessary—if not sufficient—prerequisite to getting a good-paying white-collar job. The New York Times reported that, in 1992, 17 percent of graduating college students had taken an internship, and 50 percent had in 2008. More recent figures put it even higher.
Why is this an issue for “The Lines Between Us”? If you’re going to work for free, you need to get your money from somewhere. And that's easier for some people than others.
First up in today's episode, 22-year-old Alexis Webb. She graduated from Morgan State University in May 2012. She kept jobs while she was in college. "I had to work," she said. "It was just what I had to do. I didn't think an internship was a priority until someone said, 'Hey, Alexis, you don't get a job unless you have an internship.' And I was like 'Oh...okay.'"
Then we talk to Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy, and Allissa Richardson, a a Bowie State University professor who helps her students get internships. They'll tell us what the Department of Labor has to say about unpaid internships, and about the difficult choice so many young people face: whether to take part-time work outside of your field or accrue debt to take an internship in the field.
Here are some extra resources if you want to continue the conversation about unpaid internships:
- Ross Eisenbrey with the Economic Policy Institute: “Unpaid work is exploitation.”
- Generation Debt author Anya Kamenetz’s 2006 New York Times op-ed, “Take This Internship and Shove It."
- The story of a student who worked full-time outside an internship as richer students did what they pleased.
- Reporting on a lawsuit brought by an unpaid intern on the set of Black Swan.
- Reporting on a similar suit against Harper’s Bazaar.
- Book review of Intern Nation by an unpaid intern at Slate.
- Big review in Bookforum from former Harper’s editor (and former Harper's intern) Roger Hodge.
- “Pay your interns."
- This law journal argues for allowing subminimum wages so interns at least get paid.