The Times is keeping debate over unpaid internships percolating with a piece that could have been ghostwritten by the folks at Stuff White People Like. The article looks at how the Obama administration’s shift toward stricter enforcement of minimum-wage laws is hurting honest, hard-working rich kids who can’t find a place to perform indentured servitude anymore. Most irritating, it features a quote from the CEO of an entrepreneurial group that refutes any qualms about unpaid internships with a neat libertarian meme: “I was an unpaid intern and I had no problem with it.”
Which is just a slightly fancier way of saying, “I got mine, who cares about you?”
The meat of this argument -- one championed particularly vigorously by John Stossel -- is that unpaid internships ultimately help the students who hold them and are part of the initiation process to a number of high-prestige fields.
But this ignores the legions of kids who get shut out of unpaid internships altogether because they fail the means test. These students, many of whom are just as capable as their more affluent counterparts, can’t forgo a summer’s wages at the pool or local TGI Friday’s to take an internship where their only pay is measured in “valuable experience.” Unpaid internships may expedite the climb up the employment ladder for students from relatively wealthy, well-connected families, but for others it just knocks out the bottom rungs altogether.
After years of serious collective-action problems among unpaid interns, who benefited from the status quo and were loath to earn reputations as troublemakers, we’re finally seeing an outcry over unpaid internships. Millennials, faced with an anemic economy and a bleak job scene, are rebelling against slave labor that seems to be getting them nowhere. Mushrooming college tuition is also to blame -- after all, you usually have to pay for the college credits that accompany internships. The fact of the matter is that now even the wealthiest of college students have been given a harsh dose of reality over the last few years, making the "I did it and you can too" meme ring hollow.
-- Rebecca Delaney