Many of us have had to work internships before, the vast number of which were unpaid. For me, it was a requirement for my Master’s and a way to gain valuable experience. There’s nothing wrong with requiring internships for graduation or to gain experience. I would argue that they are a vital part to bridging the academic portion of our studies to the real-world perspectives. The issue is nearly all of these internships are unpaid.
The definition of slavery in the strictest sense is the buying and selling of people. Applying this to the student-employer relationship, it’s exploiting student labor without compensation. You see, Dear Reader, by forcing students to get internships, there’s no incentive for businesses to pay them. Laws on the books are lax in this regard because students don’t vote as much as older and richer members of society. As such, this is very low on the political radar for elected officials.
When I searched for an internship this year, I made 117 cold calls and out of all of those, only eight called back. Six of them were more than happy to offer me unpaid internships. Two were paid. All internships should be paid. A person’s intellectual and physical labor is being used by an entity for their gain. While many would say that students are getting paid in “experience,” that doesn’t pay rent or put gas in the tank. A regular job pays real money and experience. In order to pay for school-related expenses, students often work at least one job plus their internship.
There are many ways that we can change laws to ban unpaid internships: tax write-offs, grants, regulations, and others. My main concern here is not to focus on a policy on how internships are paid, simply that they are paid. The current system is unethical and exploitive to some of the lowest on society’s totem pole in the world’s richest nation. This should not be the case.