The Inequality of The Unpaid Internship

Design by Brittany Isdith It's summer intern application time for ‘Cuse sophomores, juniors, some seniors and some OD freshmen. Students of all ages are rushing to the career center, furiously making corrections to their hackneyed cover letters in hopes of finding a job that probably won’t pay them. While some companies do offer their temporarily contracted 20-somethings a sweet stipend, most are not so lucky. We’re stuck finding 3 months of housing in a new city (and/or paying commuting costs), waking up early, and staying late for absolutely no monetary return.

While I personally align myself with this schema (hire me), I am only able to because I remain hopelessly at the whim of my parents’ financial generosity. Unfortunately, many students are not in the same boat and need to earn money to support themselves in their time away from school. While it may not seem this way to employers, college students are not the dependents of society. Interns (albeit the lowest on the food chain) are still adults with bills, laundry, and mouths to feed (even if those mouths are only their own).

While this is a hard truth to swallow, we need to talk about how not everyone can and should spend their summer working for free, because this limits the social mobility of those not in a stellar financial standing. The unpaid ideology assumes that an individual has the proper “connections” to find his or her way into a coveted internship position in the first place. When born into a class of lesser financial standing, it is significantly harder to not only support oneself on an internships’ nonexistent salary, but to attain one to begin with.

So, can college students do as college students do, and deliver a good ol’ fuck-you to the oppressively upper class-favoring internship system in place? Well, not exactly. It sounds like every job application is begging you to fill in the page about your internship experience. Although unpaid internships are becoming slightly more fair, the perpetuating, ever-present need to have worked as an intern is a predecessor to entering the real world. Certain companies, such as accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, hire mostly from their pool of interns. Over 70% of the company’s new hires are directly from their internship program. Not to mention, it’s proven that having an internship with another company (as hands-on experience), can truly push you to the top of a recruiter’s list. According to data from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Engineering, “nearly every student with two or more internships during their school years found jobs within six months of graduation last year.”

Despite the utter inequality surrounding the concept of the unpaid internship, the current job climate appears to imply the necessity of undertaking one. However, starting the conversation about how detrimental these programs are to those who are not financially independent may be the first step in eradicating this trend.

Shelby GullerComment