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Opinion: Internships Should Be Paid


What’s worse than working for a living? Working, and not making a living at all.


(Photo Credit: Tax Credits/Flickr)

The recent brouhaha over Lean In editor Jessica Bennett soliciting unpaid interns has brought up an interesting point: should internships be paid as a matter of course? Or is job experience — especially in this harsh employment climate — its own reward?

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Not withstanding the obvious value of internships on a worker’s CV, I believe that internships should be paid. Here’s why.

Not paying interns amounts to exploitation.

The economy has been in a rough state for half a decade or more. New graduates are famously underemployed and not having job experience makes it that much harder to climb out of the cycle of debt and poverty. Ironically, the very fact of their bad economic circumstances makes it necessary for students and the recently graduated to accept working for no pay, in the hopes of escaping a grim, underemployed future. A pool of workers with no ability to protest their poor treatment = an exploited underclass.

Companies benefit from having interns.

Even though it’s now illegal to use interns as unpaid entry-level employees, we all know that many companies get away with doing just that. It’s hard to imagine an internship without at least a little bit of grunt work.

Put it this way: even if an intern spends 75 percent of her time doing activities that contribute to her education, could the company really get by without that 25 percent of fetching and hauling? They’d have to pay for that labor.

Bottom line: If internships aren’t paid, only the wealthy will be able to be interns.

College is more expensive than ever before, and the vast majority of students don’t have families who can pay their tuition and expenses, all year round, including while they’re doing unpaid internships.

Nor does every industry revolve around the 9-to-5 job. Ask anyone who has worked in the magazine business — they’ll tell you that “The Devil Wears Prada” is barely fictionalized. This means that students who have to pay their own way might not have time to hold down part-time jobs after their internship work day is over.

Do we really want to force less-affluent students to choose between adding to their already crushing student loan debt and taking their chances on a blank resume after graduation?

Read another take on this question: Opinion – Internships Should Not Be Paid

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think internships should be paid or unpaid? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

More from PayScale

Data Package: Who Is Underemployed in America?

The Importance of Internships From Lauren Berger, “The Intern Queen”

Federal Labor Laws on Unpaid Internships

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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