OPINION | Internships are exploitative and classist

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You grind, put in long hours, probably pick up everyone’s coffee order, and for what? College credit and if you’re lucky, the experience, maybe a connection or two at most. 

Most people don’t gain relevant industry experience in the classroom, and we are told to pursue internships that are usually unpaid, for this reason. Internships supposedly help us gain industry experience. This helps build resumes and make recent graduates appealing to potential employers. 

Even the simplest internships are as much of a student’s time as a part job. Students from middle-class or low-income families take on internships to compete in the job market of their more privileged peers which can come at a financial cost.

Students from less financially supportive backgrounds are left to feel the financial and mental burden unpaid internships often leave.

For someone from a financially supportive family, internships can be lucrative for them. They gain the knowledge that comes from their respective internships and can network. Gaining connections that can help pave the way for them to obtain careers without ever holding a job prior to their internship.

Whereas an intern who isn’t from a privileged background could see their performance suffer from having to balance an internship and a job. Which can result in increased stress and possibly developing what professionals call “money anxiety disorder.”

Interns can also feel burned out by taking on an additional job while doing work for their unpaid internship which can lead to a decrease in their ability to complete assigned tasks. 

Large corporations are not committed to interns. Instead, they offer experience, connections and a “foot in the door,” but no promise of a job. Internships are also a way for companies to work young, naive students to the bone for “experience.” Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, this is perfectly legal. As long as the student has learned something by the end of their internship.

According to the FLSA Act, “Interns and students, however, may not be “employees” under the FLSA—in which case the FLSA does not require compensation for their work.” There is an expectation college students should have at least one internship before graduating, and 90% of American universities require an internship to graduate.   

Interns deserve to be paid because “experience” doesn’t pay the bills when it comes down to it. Students are expected to work just as hard, if not harder, than an employee. Companies should give students an opportunity to shine and gain industry experience while being paid, and not get coffee for the office because they are “disposable” labor. Students are looking to be mentored, and what they bring to the table can make a difference in the company they intern for.  

Look at it this way: corporation leadership doesn’t work for free, so why should an intern?