Column: Requiring interns to work for free only serves to benefit privileged people

Unpaid internships are just another method that makes it harder for people to escape their low socioeconomic status.

Tatyana Monnay is a sophomore journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

Last week on Twitter, a site wide conversation was had about the ethicality of unpaid internships. Up until now, I had never really thought about paid or unpaid internships. After thinking about it for a couple minutes, I quickly realized how unfair unpaid internships are to the intern. Not only are they completely exploitive, but unpaid internships discourage social mobility.

Many people argue that unpaid internships are just a part of the journey that builds character and reputability for yourself in your chosen industry.

One thing I don’t understand is this: how does free labor build character? Hopping from couch to couch because your family can’t afford to help you out does not sound like a journey I would like to go on. And just because I, and millions of other students, feel that way does not make us brats, weak or spoiled.

People who argue for unpaid internships fail to realize a huge facet of an unpaid internship: In addition to their unpaid internship, students should not have to reduce their quality of life so much that they have to work two or three jobs. Students should not have to go through all of that in order to risk never making it in their field of choice.

Forcing students to decide whether to work themselves to death or take a harder path to succeed in their chosen industry is just not right. Usually if someone can’t afford an unpaid internship, they take a paying job outside of their industry and hope that soon they can find a paid internship. Meanwhile, privileged students from financially wealthy families take these unpaid internships without batting an eye. For them, it is an opportunity to get their foot in the door years before some of their other classmates who are not as well off.

In a study by Intern Bridge, it was found that wealthier families do not have more access to unpaid internships. But, as author Ross Perlin argues in his book, Intern Nation, the loopholes surrounding unpaid internships exclude lower class families from internship opportunities. This leads to the workforce becoming less diverse as years go on.

The system of hiring unpaid interns only perpetuates the idea that certain people are able to work in the industries that they want because they can afford it. It also perpetuates a close to never ending cycle of unpaid internships. People take unpaid internships to get real world experience in their industry and hope that at the end of their internship, the company they are working for hires them and actually pays them. The sad thing is, this eventual job is never a promised item.

According to a 2015 survey by The National Association of Colleges and Employers, participating in an unpaid internship does not increase a students’ chances of employment. In fact, the survey found that participating in a paid internship makes students more likely to receive a job offer post graduation, including a higher starting salary.

The bottom line is this: People should not be forced to live off of nothing in order to get a job. There is immense value to an intern’s work and it is in everyone’s best interest to only accept to be paid in exchange for work. If a company cannot afford to pay interns, then they should not utilize them in the first place.

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