Replacing Full-Time Jobs With Unpaid Internships

I know that plenty of graduates are moving this month from the Ivory Tower to the Real World without a job. That’s disappointing, scary and a reflection of the fact that we are still in the grip of a jobless economic recovery. And many graduates are carrying a shitload of student debt obligations from campuses along with a diploma.

So, unpaid internship anyone?

For many, the answer is yes. And I was at a meeting last week Inside the Beltway where many attending opined that this is a positive trend: a way for former students to gain some experience before striking a deal with an employer.

Nah.

Here’s an interesting NYT article, “Jobs Few, Grads Flock to Unpaid Internships“:

Confronting the worst job market in decades, many college graduates who expected to land paid jobs are turning to unpaid internships to try to get a foot in an employer’s door.

While unpaid postcollege internships have long existed in the film and nonprofit worlds, they have recently spread to fashion houses, book and magazine publishers, marketing companies, public relations firms, art galleries, talent agencies — even to some law firms.

Melissa Reyes, who graduated from Marist College with a degree in fashion merchandising last May, applied for a dozen jobs to no avail. She was thrilled, however, to land an internship with the Diane von Furstenberg fashion house in Manhattan. “They talked about what an excellent, educational internship program this would be,” she said.

But Ms. Reyes soon soured on the experience. She often worked 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., five days a week. “They had me running out to buy them lunch,” she said. “They had me cleaning out the closets, emptying out the past season’s items.” Asked about her complaints, the fashion firm said, “We are very proud of our internship program, and we take all concerns of this kind very seriously.”

Although many internships provide valuable experience, some unpaid interns complain that they do menial work and learn little, raising questions about whether these positions violate federal rules governing such programs.

Yet interns say they often have no good alternatives. As Friday’s jobs report showed, job growth is weak, and the unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds was 13.2 percent in April.

The Labor Department says that if employers do not want to pay their interns, the internships must resemble vocational education, the interns must work under close supervision, their work cannot be used as a substitute for regular employees and their work cannot be of immediate benefit to the employer.

But in practice, there is little to stop employers from exploiting interns. The Labor Department rarely cracks down on offenders, saying that it has limited resources and that unpaid interns are loath to file complaints for fear of jeopardizing any future job search.

No one keeps statistics on the number of college graduates taking unpaid internships, but there is widespread agreement that the number has significantly increased, not least because the jobless rate for college graduates age 24 and under has risen to 9.4 percent, the highest level since the government began keeping records in 1985. (Employment experts estimate that undergraduates work in more than one million internships a year, with Intern Bridge, a research firm, finding almost half unpaid.)

“A few years ago you hardly heard about college graduates taking unpaid internships,” said Ross Eisenbrey, a vice president at the Economic Policy Institute who has done several studies on interns. “But now I’ve even heard of people taking unpaid internships after graduating from Ivy League schools.”

To paraphrase the John Belushi character, Bluto,  in Animal House when told he was being kicked out of school with a GPA below 1.0: “Christ, seven years of college, down the drain.”

As a nation, our economy is heading down the drain if we can’t offer college grads and others more than an unpaid internship.

Of course, Bluto may have done OK with on. As I recall from the flick, he had an enthusiasm for food service.

 

 

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