Unpaid Internships. A lot of people have either done one, or are currently in the process of completing one. They’re likely going to stick around for a while. The question is, why?
Supposedly, unpaid internships are an opportunity to get your foot in the door. They are a way to show your commitment to a field by taking no pay because you’re getting the currency of “experience” to compensate you for actually contributing to a company. The said work is necessary to keep said company running, and you are expected to adhere to professional standards, show up on time and do the work.
Now, many people say, “What’s the issue with unpaid internships? You get experience, and it’s an entry level job that you can use on your resume.” And while it is true that these internships do help people get their foot in the door after the fact, usually at a different company, the issue comes down to ethics and whether you believe somebody working the equivalent of an actual job is worth being paid little to zero.
According to a 2012 student survey, nearly half of graduating seniors have taken on an unpaid internship. Given that the average age of people in internships is in the late teens to early twenties, which is an age group notorious for having little disposable income while dealing with college and other priorities, no pay for the hours spent is huge, and many would prefer to work a “lesser” job that actually compensates them properly.
However, the issue here is that you’re trading the ability to actually find an entry level job in a field you’re interested in, and instead settling for a lower amount of money, usually without a hope of improving your financial situation in the first place.
The other issue with unpaid internships is how they can disproportionally affect people of color and those of lesser financial status. As it stands, the relationship between being a minority in America and having less income is almost causal, and this is also reflected in how internships are handled, too.
In 2016, a report released by Bridge stated that that these less represented groups are also less represented in internships, period, with over half of them being unpaid, as well. While it may not be “intentionally” racist, it certainly undercuts these groups in a significant and impactful way, and this should not be something that still happens in 2022.
Unpaid internships have a long standing history of being protected because private companies are allowed to dictate the rules of their own companies. When you have to work for free for a period of time in order to secure a job that pays a livable wage, it starts looking like little more than indentured servitude, albeit a blunted form of it.
While it’s clearly not as serious as the indentured servitude that was seen in the 1800’s, the fact that people are essentially forced to work for little to nothing in order to have a chance at a job, while also struggling financially with college and other burdens, doesn’t do much to inspire confidence that things will change, or that people will be able to get to the places they want to be in their careers. It reeks of keeping those with a low income where they’re at, and it does so in a discriminatory way that removes both diversity of race and income from the work field.