In This Economy!??: Are Unpaid Internships Unethical?

Zavia Pittman 

Staff Writer 

I am currently sending my resume to anyone who will take it in hopes of getting an internship for my major. The process has been stressful (like most things dealing with college), and I’m hoping that one of these days I just don’t have to worry about it anymore. 

For now, as my search continues, I’ve noticed a running trend with a lot of job postings. The process usually goes something like this: I go on Linkedin or Handshake, and I see an internship that looks promising (which is few and far between if I’m being honest), but I decide to click on it. I read the description and I start checking off items in my head. 

Ok, looks like a real company. Check. Bare minimum but that’s good. Matches my major. Check. Alright. What about the pay? Ahh. That’s the catch. *Sigh*

Among the general annoyance and fatigue, I’m left confused as to how a business is unable to pay interns a livable wage. We are all going through a financial crisis (look at the prices for eggs: it’s depressing), and people (usually those who are fresh out of college) are expected to provide free labor. Worse still, many of these paid internships are based in places where the costs of living are reaching all-time highs.

I’m looking at you, New York.

This phenomenon of unpaid internships reminds me of the idea that experience trumps pay, meaning that whatever money you’re not making will be supplemented by the experience you get from the internship. In some regards that may be true, but for the general public, compensation is just as important if not essential. Yes, you can build connections with people at the business you intern for, and maybe that will lead to other opportunities, but that is in the future. “Future opportunities” don’t pay current expenses, and sometimes it’s hard to absorb said experiences when you’re stressing about rent.

As mentioned before, the main culprits offering unpaid internships are often large brands or corporations that can likely afford to pay one more employee. Fashion brands are highly culpable of this behavior, and they often have internships where interns are doing anything but learning. I understand the statement of “earning your stripes,” but if all the work I am doing is menial labor that other people could do themselves, what stripes am I actually earning? This is one of the worst examples of an unpaid internship, and there are probably more productive ones out there, but the essence of the worst is potentially pervasive within any unpaid internship. 

I want to clarify this by saying that I don’t want to make it seem like every business with an unpaid internship is inconsiderate. There are many great examples of people who worked as apprentices for someone and learned valuable lessons from that. And not every business is a large corporation that can spend money on new interns; maybe they just want to help someone who is passionate about a particular discipline get some experience. However, I do think that there are more ways to compensate someone for their hard work other than just experience. That could look like a lot of things. Maybe help them get another job that they can do while they are an intern, or help them if they are food insecure. Anything that relieves some of the financial stress someone may be going through.

Regardless of the stereotypes of interns being lazy or glorified coffee machines, some people actually want to work hard and get some hands-on experience in a field they love. Some people are willing to go without compensation to get a leg up in the industry, but that doesn’t mean they should. I don’t think it’s fair for companies to take advantage of passionate people when they have the means to pay them.

This may not reach those big corporations, but hopefully it will reach new business leaders who want to show that they value all of their employees. 

Including the interns.

Categories: featured, Opinions


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