Unequal Experiences: Why unpaid internships should be eliminated


Photo courtesy of Money Inc

Article by: Anna-Jo Stuart, Opinion Intern

You hear it all the time in college. “You have to do an internship to be competitive after you graduate!” Internships consume the lives of many college students’ semesters and summers, all in the hopes that it will help them get a job post-graduation. More often than not, these internships that are meant to give them the edge are unpaid. This leaves many with no choice but to work for free. They fear that if they do not,  they will not be able to get a job.

Personally, I will be doing a part-time unpaid internship this summer. On top of that, I will have to work as much as possible, so that I can afford to live independently this summer. I’ll also need to make sure I have some money to start off the next semester. Though I have financial worries, I have other worries as well. I need to get a new car soon. What if I have to get it this summer? Also, how will this affect my ability to save up some money for the next academic year? I know that if this was a full-time internship, I would be unable to do it. It seems that many other Aquinas students would be unable to participate in an full-time unpaid internship as well.

In a poll I conducted on Facebook, eighteen students responded to the question “Would you be able to afford a 40 hour a week unpaid internship?”, with “Not unless I also worked as much as possible.” Eight said that “This would not be a possibility for me at all.”  No one said that “Yes, I would be able to do this easily, by saving before the internship, or with assistance from family.”

The inability for many students to be able to complete a full time unpaid internship shows how this creates a system of inequality. It is unreasonable for the workforce to expect that students provide free labor in the hopes of one day being able to get a job from that experience. Companies are saving money by giving entry level jobs to students willing to work for nothing. Not only are they willing to work for free, but often times they pay for the internship to count as credit hours towards their degrees.

Next comes the issue of students who can’t even afford to be exploited for free labor. Lower and middle class students are unable to gain access to the professional experience that their wealthier peers have.  It is no wonder that class mobility is so difficult. Many students are kept out of the “game” because they simply cannot afford to “play”.

Some companies recognize how the system of unpaid internships is unfair and immoral, but it is still deeply engrained in workplace culture. Companies need to recognize that an unpaid internship is asking a student to give free labor when they could be working somewhere that may not make them competitive after graduation, but will pay for the bills they have now, as well as the  tuition they have to pay to even need an internship in the first place.

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