The pain of the unpaid internship

If you’re one of those students who found an internship this past summer, you may have found that you’ve returned poorer because of it.

Nowadays, internships are considered a requirement. In fact, we feel so pressured to build up our resumes that more and more of us have been accepting unpaid internships in expensive metropolitan areas.

It doesn’t take a math major to realize that if you’re an unpaid employee, expenses like rent and meals in a city like New York will quickly put you in the red.

Just a monthly metro card will put you back more than $100. A business lunch?

Easily around $20.

About 75 percent of students at four-year schools will take at least one internship, but only half of them will be paid, according to Ross Perlin’s “Intern Nation.”

There are between one and two million Americans working as interns every year. Yes, I realize that’s a difference of one million interns, but that’s because neither the U.S. Labor Department nor the Census Bureau accounts for these internships. As The New York Times reported, the Labor Department has stepped up enforcement as these internships grow more common. But many of us still find ourselves doing full-time, back-breaking internships for little or nothing.

This isn’t only cruel; it can also be illegal.

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, an unpaid internship is legal only if the intern is given substantial training, if the intern is not replacing a regular employee and if there’s a clear understanding that money won’t be changing hands.

I’m sure some of you didn’t fit into either category.

I am all for being marketable after graduation. But is it so important that we must settle for an unpaid position with duties that resemble those of our paid colleagues?

This is not a mutual relationship where both sides win equally.

Corporations save $2 billion annually by not paying interns a minimum wage, according to Perlin. Let’s face it: our desperation has turned us into easy prey.

“Young people and their parents are subsidizing labor for Fortune 500 companies,” Perlin writes.

Many employers offer college credit in exchange for internships. Some only accept interns from colleges who will do so, but this method is even more of a facade. In this scenario, we’re paying money — but receiving credit hours — to work an unpaid position.

Does this sound ridiculous enough to you yet?

Colleges like ours charge students one credit hour to enroll in pass-fail classes that allow them to obtain credit toward graduation.

But that isn’t even the worst situation. If your department isn’t willing to give you credit for your internship, and your employers require you to get it, then you must enroll — and pay — for a one-credit hour class that will count for absolutely nothing.

These pass-fail, just-turn-in-a-paper-at-the-end classes are a very easy source of revenue for colleges.

Right about now is where you hang your head low and realize you’re not just working for free, but sometimes paying UNC to let you do it.

Let’s stop this humiliation, please.

Thanks for reading.

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