Unpaid Internships Illegal

Posted by Judy Anne Cavey on May 23, 2011 in , , | 2 Comments

Have you landed your internship position yet?

Cheer up, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers: “…employers intend to hire 19% more graduates this year than last.” That may be the best news you’ll hear this spring. According to The Economist magazine, there are fewer entry level positions to be had in a number of industries. That’s the bad news. That’s why a number of grads are finding unpaid internships more plentiful than actual paid positions.

In the U.S., as many as three-quarters of university students have been interns before graduation–over half worked for free. I wonder how many of those interns knew if they worked for a for-profit, it’s illegal not to have been paid? There are guidelines, dating back to 1947, which were to be enforced by the Department of Labor regarding paid internships. Unfortunately, if interns are too afraid to file complaints, nothing is enforced, and the number of unpaid interns will keep going up.

How much are the employers making by not paying interns? A bundle–$2 billion a year–states Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation, a new book about the “highly competitive race to the bottom of the corporate ladder.” Mr. Perlin says, “Young people and their parents are subsidizing labor for Fortune 500 companies.” And the fact is, they’re taking the place of full-time paid employees, not good, considering we continue to see millions out of work across the country.

How is big business getting away with this so easily? The Economist article points out they “…often encourage students to work in exchange for academic credits from their college. But such credits can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars,” benefiting the college, but not the students.

What can interns do? Contact your representatives, giving them your personal experiences regarding unpaid internships. Tell them you want the Department of Labor to take appropriate action. Next, go to the website Internship Ratings, rate your personal internship experience. Encourage other interns to do the same.

Until more interns complain and action is imposed against those taking advantage, embrace your internship! Learn all you can, acquire valuable contacts, and make a good impression. Also, if you’re working for one of the Fortune 500 companies, do enjoy the free high quality coffee and tray of goodies in their break room.