Should Unpaid Internships Be Illegal?


I learned a long time ago that if I want to break into magazine writing I would have to get some internships under my belt. And after searching high and low, I later learned those internships would most likely be unpaid. Did I want to make big money while working full time at a job? Of course, but if working my patootie off to pad my resume required a financial sacrifice, then I was more than willing to do it.

But some people don’t agree and actually want to make unpaid internships illegal! Worried that many companies are illegally using students for free labor, many officials in Oregon, California and other states want to change the rules and require companies to pay their interns.

Honestly, this is something I never really thought of before.  In my eyes, the benefit of my unpaid internships has been the experience gained on my resume. I always just accepted that unpaid internships were something everyone had to have if they wanted to move up the ladder. Sure, it wasn’t ideal, but that’s just the way things were, and if you were learning something about your future career then it was all worth it.

But then I started thinking about all those bullsh*t internships out there. You know, the ones where you’re making copies, fetching coffee and answering phones. The ones that have literally nothing to do with your future career interests, but you take because you think it will still look good on your resume. Like an NYU intern at a Manhattan children’s film company who was assigned to the facilities department to wipe the doorknobs each day to prevent Swine Flu from spreading through the office. I don’t know what the job listing was, but I’m pretty sure that student didn’t plan on adding “door knob cleaner” to their resume. How did he benefit from that?

And then there are those students who can’t afford unpaid internships. Even if they could gain hella experience in some awesome internship program, they might not be able to sacrifice a summer of making money to do it. How is it fair that they become less competitive candidates for future jobs just because someone else was lucky enough to have their parents footing the bill for the summer?

All those things considered, I can totally get on board with this whole “unpaid internships should be illegal” business. Well, that and the fact that I’d like to bring home a paycheck for the work I do. I mean, who in their right mind wouldn’t want to make money for working? Even my little cousins won’t do their chores without getting a little somethin’ somethin’ from their parents. But is this realistic? And what if it happens and companies who can’t afford paid interns just stop offering internships? How are the 83% of students who now seek them out all supposed to get them? Yeah, some internships are BS, but some actually do teach you something and internships are valuable for future employers who seek students with relevant experience.

What are we supposed to do when we can’t get that experience?

I’m all about being compensated for my work, but I also really value the unpaid internship opportunities that I’ve had. I’ve learned so much and I know they will help me when graduation hits and I’m dumped into the craptastic job market. Would college students really benefit if those opportunities didn’t exist?

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