February 6, 2012

Should the government crack down on unpaid internships?

Or leave people alone to enter into whatever sorts of arrangements they find mutually beneficial?

78 comments:

John Lynch said...

People think they are getting something out of them. Also, it's typically educated people who could be doing something else. It's not a case of the underprivileged being exploited.

It's not much different than grad students, actually.

Russ said...

They should leave them to come to whatever arrangement they can.

If your internship is unpaid, its probably because the supply of interns is too high, and it should be a clue that perhaps you're gonna make dirt when you get the 'real' job as well.

DADvocate said...

The government definitely needs to crack down. We need the government controlling as much of our lives and interactions as possible to make sure everything is fair and equal.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Government. Is there anything it can't do?

chickenlittle said...

Should the government crack down on unpaid internships?

I thought Ken Starr tried that already.

TMink said...

I agree with the two rabble rousers above me. What we need is more government controlling more of our lives more of the time.

Trey

Kenny said...

I do think it raises social mobility concerns. I started out highly educated but didn't have the money to support myself for six to twelve months on a hope that I might get a real income after that. If unpaid internships were really necessary to enter into white collar jobs, it would be a barrier to anyone without some amount of starting capital.

I really don't think it's necessary to get an unpaid internship in order to get a real job though.

Rob said...

Yes, because college kids don't need the experience. They already know it all.

Aheitman said...

Funny- this seems to be an argument for keeping the minimum wage lower. Ostensibly, the higher the minimum wage, the less employers will want to hire for pay.

This is one of those lefty solutions (raising the minimum wage) that is short sighted and causes more problems.

MadisonMan said...

Are internships at the New York Times paid or unpaid?

Joe said...

(The Uncredentialed, Crypto Jew)

I am ALL for cracking down on unpaid internships at the NYT, LAT, ACORN, and Moveon.org….

Joe said...

The problem is that some internships are a con. The company claims a person will be doing one thing, but they end up doing something else.

As long as there is full disclosure, people should be free to enter whatever working relationship works.

(I've never worked at a place that offered unpaid internships. Just how cheap are you if you can't even offer minimum wage? I'm also under the impression that paying minimum wage offers you some legal protections in some states.)

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I really don't think it's necessary to get an unpaid internship in order to get a real job though.

Depends on the job or industry.

My daughter was essentially an unpaid intern. Working at her college as part of her scholarships and to reduce tuition, she worked in the calling center. The job was to call alumni and raise funds for the college.

She was very good at that and they then had her working under the paid administrator as a helper in organizing and promoting bigger fund raising events.

Eventually, they promoted her to student (unpaid) manager.

It was the recommendations from the adminstrator that got her her first job directly out of college at a well known West Coast private collge in the fund raising, development field. She started right out of college making a 6 figure income and hasn't stopped yet. With each change of location she is steadlily rising up the ladder in her career.

None of this would have been possible without her unpaid intern position.

garage mahal said...

I am ALL for cracking down on unpaid internships at the NYT, LAT, ACORN, and Moveon.org….

ACORN? LOL

edutcher said...

Considering how experience and a recommendation are vital to getting hired, anything short of bonded indenture is probably a good deal.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Government. Is there anything it can't do?

Do you mean just do, or do right?

Hoosier Daddy said...

"... Government. Is there anything it can't do?

Do you mean just do, or do right?.."

Both.

Andre said...

There are two questions here-1)Is the current internship system good for society as a whole and 2)should the government intervene, and if so--how?

I think the first one is an easy "no." There are entire fields that you can't break into without being willing and able to work full-time for free at first. Which means if you can't be supported by someone else *cough*parents*cough* you can't get into these jobs--no matter how good at it you may be. More problematically, increasingly this are the fields of our self-selected elite making them more insular precisely when we need to be broadening their horizons.

My inner libertarian agrees that ideally the gov't has no place in this...except the gov't already regulates so much of your and my terms of employment that leaving this very specific hole is an intervention in itself. Part of the problem is that it's the rare area where a)companies can control costs and b)there's no counter-pressure. As Aheitman points out...this is an unintended consequence of short-sighted gov't...but it *is* a negative consequence.

MadisonMan said...

HD: I'll give the obvious answer for things the Govt does right: produce accurate weather forecasts.

bagoh20 said...

Now why didn't the Confederacy think of that angle. Could have saved a lot of lives.

Dead Julius said...

Yeah, let's have a War on... one more thing! Just what we need!

MayBee said...

Yeah. Politicians who rely on campaign volunteers should concern themselves with unpaid internships in other organizations.

Hoosier Daddy said...

"... HD: I'll give the obvious answer for things the Govt does right: produce accurate weather forecasts..."

I'll go further and say defense, road construction and building codes.

Rohan said...

I actually worked for a time for a guy that ended up exploiting unpaid interns. The thing is that a lot of European universities require their students take an six-month internship in their field in order to graduate.

So this guy would offer unpaid internships to all these kids and basically use them as temp labor in a call center style operation.

The kids didn't really know what they were getting into because it was on a different continent, they didn't have much choice if they wanted to continue their schooling. The universities didn't care so long as the kids weren't actively being harmed. The university's primary concern was placing all these students, and this guy was taking multiple students.

The guy would even use some of the current interns as HR people to interview and "hire" other interns for the next six months, making the process self-perpetuating to a degree. I think at one point he had 20 interns for each paid staff member.

That whole experience really soured me on internships, especially unpaid. If you aren't willing to pay someone to work, it's probably better for everyone if you don't hire people.

Curious George said...

"Dust Bunny Queen said...
My daughter was essentially an unpaid intern. Working at her college as part of her scholarships and to reduce tuition"


That's hardly unpaid.

Joe said...
The problem is that some internships are a con. The company claims a person will be doing one thing, but they end up doing something else.

As long as there is full disclosure, people should be free to enter whatever working relationship works.


How about if they end up asking you to do stuff outside that described you simply quit. Like any other job. Why make it as complicated as government? sheez

sleepless nights said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dust Bunny Queen said...

"Dust Bunny Queen said...
My daughter was essentially an unpaid intern. Working at her college as part of her scholarships and to reduce tuition"

That's hardly unpaid.

Well, I guess you are right.

There was no money changing hands. Just a reduction in tuition that we would have had to pay, so it did have a quid pro quo status.

The point still stands though. Without the internship, she would not have the career that she has now, nor would she likely have even known that this was a career for her.

Serendipity.

Quaestor said...

Kenny wrote:
I started out highly educated...

The newly matriculating student usually is highly educated. However, contact with reality tends to dumb down folks considerably. The faster this dumbing down process occurs (known technically as maturation) the faster one becomes of actually value to society.

wv: pardi - what one does in the wake of the NY Giants victory!

t-man said...

Get rid of the minimum wage, and allow people to make their own, mutually agreed upon arrangements. Until then, require payment of the minimum wage for what are now unpaid positions.

Michael said...

How about the Government quits pretending it "cracks down" on anything, especially new things about which it knows nothing.

David-2 said...

Interns in engineering and computer science get paid real money, and do real work.

If you're not getting paid, then your work has no value to the company. Very probably, your work has no value to anyone.

If you can't figure that out, then should the government let you know, or shield you from the truth? (Trick question: the answer is that the government should let you sink or swim on your own.)

Ken said...

All labor legislation should be repealed. The government, at all levels, has no business sticking its nose in the private contract between employer and employee.

Scott M said...

Very probably, your work has no value to anyone.

I don't know about the TV side of broadcasting, but interns are certainly useful in radio. I would admit that their work (except in very rare cases) out side of grunt work doesn't really have any value to the station, but their exposure to the goings-on, likely at a station they've loved for years, is payment enough for their being allowed to participate.

You could argue, in such a case, that they are making out like a bandit on the station. They're not allowed to do anything really important...and if they are, they are most likely good enough to make it on to the air staff. The station is basically granting them access in return for driving vehicles around, setting up remote equipment, and fetching coffee.

n.n said...

The operative consideration should be that internships, as well as apprenticeships, etc., are presumably a form of voluntary exploitation. Since the intern or apprentice is pursuing a vocation as a trainee, he will likely provide little return to the teacher or employer. However, we may consider other regulations, including limiting the unpaid period in order to limit occurrences of abuse.

We should not discourage the voluntary transfer of knowledge and skill. It may rightly be considered an investment.

Dr Weevil said...

MadisonMan:
Actually the government is not even very good at weather reports. The NWS very often reports utterly impossible things like a current temperature much higher than the predicted high for the day or much lower than the predicted low. Here's an example of a 15-degree discrepancy: if the current temperature is 63F, how can the forecast high for the day still be 48F? Two lines of code should be enough to fix the programming problem.

Everyone:
That unpaid internships are legal shows just how stupid minimum-wage laws are. How is it right or just to say that you can pay your employees $7.25 per hour, or more than $7.25, or you can pay them nothing, but you can't pay them $5.25 or $3.25, even if they are willing to work for that wage? Surely someone offered $3.25 per hour is less exploited than someone offered nothing.

Years ago, I read a libertarianish Sci Fi novel in which there were no minimum wage laws and people were paid anywhere from 10 or 14 times the typical standard wage for uranium mining in Antarctica, and 0.2 or 0.25 times the standard wage for feeding baby primates at the zoo. (It's been 30+ years, but I have a precise memory of the two job descriptions, though I am not quite sure about the numbers.) Why shouldn't a zoo pay people (e.g.) $2 / hour to feed baby primates? As it is, it's nothing or $7.25+.

MarkW said...

Nah, ordinary unpaid internships are OK. The *really* abusive setup is where not only is the internship unpaid, but the student has to *pay* the university for a semester's worth of tuition (many thousands of $$) for the 'privilege of working for free. Sometimes the 'employer' gets a cut of this windfall and splits the spoils of the exploitation with the U.

John Burgess said...

The government itself is an employer of unpaid interns. I know that in the US Embassies (part of the Dept. of State) in which I worked, there would be easily 100 applicants for four or five jobs on offer each year.

The internships had a one-year duration. The intern was responsible for paying his/her housing, food, transportation, etc., including getting to the country in the first place. The Embassy would provide access to medical care on site and, depending on the location, perhaps even some medical insurance just in case. If the Embassy had access to the DOD's APO/FPO mail systems and/or commissary, access for interns would be negotiated.

The Embassies would help the interns find housing that was safe and in safe areas, but not any administrative support for the housing, like repairs.

Before arriving, the interns had to obtain security clearances, at least to the 'classified' level so that they could actually do useful work.

Needless to say, the interns depended on the kindness of others to thrive for a year.

While I wasn't directly involved, I know the DOJ had its own intern program, but those jobs were always in the US.

O2BNAZ said...

Of course government is going to oppose unpaid internships. Once businesses have to start paying these inexperienced newbies they will simply do away with the programs. This will will force the "interns" who want to be competitive, and who would have other wise gained free work experience to now pay for that experience at what most likely will be a government run public university

MadisonMan said...

very often

Uh huh.

Still, you can always go the private route. Here is Accu-Weather's seasonal forecast for this "winter", issued last October.

Synova said...

what gets me about internships, generally, is the hypocrisy.
If it's lefty college professors expecting grad student slave labor or summer internships, somehow that's different than working class... those folks who supposedly need to be protected for their own good. But it puts a barrier to the lower classes in the upper class, because not everyone can afford to work for nothing, even for a while. The rules should be the same. Let people do OTJ training or apprenticeships and decide for themselves if it's worth putting off paid work.

Joe said...

How about if they end up asking you to do stuff outside that described you simply quit. Like any other job.

Because in some cases it causes great hardship to the person in the internship. Among other things, the internship may be tied to their college graduation or quitting may harm their ability to get a reference.

Besides, I fail to see why mandating full disclosure is seen as a bad thing. The company I currently work for does this as a matter of course.

Out of curiosity, has anyone run a company where everyone but him or herself was an unpaid intern? Now, there's a challenge.

ic said...

Unpaid intenship is an employer's way to screen in future employees. Some employers assign regular employees to mentor and guide the interns. They are training the interns to do jobs they're not ready to do. Employers are paying these interns with trainings.

On the other hand, some universities require the students to pay the universities so they can work as an intern with a real life employer to gain real life experience. The student-intern may or may not get paid, but the university is making a bundle anyway. That is exploitation!

Frankly, if a person has employable skills, he will never work as an unpaid intern. Those who do not have working skills, they should pay the employers for the training opportunities.

In any case, it's none of the govt's business. Employers who do not pay their interns would stop the internship program. The unprepared young persons could not invent work experience to pad their very thin resumes.

Don't Tread 2012 said...

They should stay out of it.

That said, I expect congresscritters to invent all manner of interference.

They can't help themselves.

Don't Tread 2012 said...

"ACORN? LOL"

Yeah I don't see the gov't cracking down on its own trojan horse.

wv - uslestyp

John Lynch said...

Andre had the best point so far- too many fields are only open after an unpaid apprenticeship.

Revenant said...

I think the first one is an easy "no." There are entire fields that you can't break into without being willing and able to work full-time for free at first. Which means if you can't be supported by someone else *cough*parents*cough* you can't get into these jobs--no matter how good at it you may be.

Correction: you can't get into those jobs if you're only willing to work 40 hours a week and haven't saved any money.

Also, you didn't explain why this was "bad for society". It sounds like it is bad for poor people and orphans, but that's not the same thing -- the vast majority of American families CAN afford to provide room and board to a college grad for an extra year or so after graduation, especially if he or she gets a part-time job and helps out.

Alex said...

Def more government is needed here. It seems unanimous on Althouse Blog. Moar government MOAR!!!!!

Coketown said...

It's government interference that makes unpaid internships necessary at all. Most Progressives don't understand, or just don't care, how all their favorite rules and regulations compound to make hiring each new employee absurdly expensive. Notice how each new increase in the minumum wage causes youth unemployment to tick up. Young people aren't worth $7.75 an hour, so people aren't hiring them. Beyond the employee's gross pay there are employer-side payroll taxes, like social secutiry and unemployment (yes, we tax businesses for solving the problem the tax is allegedly trying to fix), there's liability insurance for having them on your property, and the quarterly forms to the IRS and state offices are a huge drain on the HR and accounting departments.

Consequently, more and more firms are dealing with a deluge of applicants who have never held a job. References are non-existent, and references for those who actually have worked before are useless because so many firms get sued by former employees for poor reviews (at my last company, the only things we could tell other companies calling for applicant evaluations were a) how long they worked for us and b) whether or not we would hire them again). Firms have resorted to running credit checks on potential employees because other employers won't talk about their past employees--and liberals even want this practice banned!

So now the government, after creating the problem, wants firms to shoulder the cost and risks of hiring these inexperienced workers? This is absurd. Unpaid internships are the only way to convince firms to take on workers without experience.

Synova said...

Rev, how many internships are anywhere near "live at home" locations? That would work for regular entry level though.

Bruce Hayden said...

What I am trying to figure out is why these positions might be exempt from the minimum wage laws.

Now, I think that there is a fair amount of evidence that minimum wage jobs help cause unemployment, as they drive up the marginal cost of hiring another employee above the marginal return thereof. But, no matter how ill-advised these laws are, they are the law of the land.

Finally, did a corporate internship in law school, and it was quite useful. Didn't expect to get paid, and wasn't. But, would do it again if I were in a similar position. And, indeed, I would suggest that internships in law school can be some of the most valuable education you get there, and there should be many more such opportunities offered.

Methadras said...

Darn you government!!! YOU AREN'T DOING ENOUGH TO INVADE THE LIVES AND ARRANGEMENTS OF INTERNS!!!

Amy said...

My daughter had to do 4 semesters of full time internship as part of her degree. She found a company within her field that would give her an internship but could not pay. She submitted it to the director and they said no. The school insisted that the internships be paid. They would not allow unpaid internships within industry. The director told me that the companies had the money and he would not allow the kids to spend all that time working for free - he insisted that the companies cough it up, which they did. One of hers turned into a very positive full time position which she is currently working at. I thought it was an interesting approach by the school.
This was in the school of business.

Other daughter (liberal arts at a fancy-pants school) had lots of friends who did unpaid internships, mostly in major cities (NY, SF) where mom and dad continued to subsidize them after graduation. Me? Not so much.

Mark O said...

In Obama's America, everything will be free except us.

Mary Beth said...

It sounds as though it can be exploitative but that article really only presents Xuedan Wang's side of it.

The government should stay out of it. If people are doing the internships for college credit then the schools should be responsible for making sure that the business complies with the law (pdf) that is already there. It would be interesting to have the internship information included in college rankings.

Hagar said...

and then there were Mimi Alford and Monica Lewinsky.

Hagar said...

Should they have been paid?

chickenlittle said...

@Carol_Herman: Obviously the fruit wasn't ripe, or the artist was projecting.

Revenant said...

Rev, how many internships are anywhere near "live at home" locations? That would work for regular entry level though.

Most internships are near the college they are obtained through, and an impoverished student is presumably attending a college near his or her home.

Carnifex said...

@Hoosier Daddy

I have to disagree with you on defense. They just do it period. But $400 hammers and $700 toilet seats kinda point to a big procurment problem. Not even going to talk about the Unified Fighter Plane, or whatever they call it.

@ MadMan

My wife watches the weather channel religiously. I myself just use the weather rock. The weather rock is 100 percent reliable. If it's wet, it's raining, if it's white, it's snowing, etc...

Ps. I hate when the show last weeks, last year, last century, weather spots. I know what it did in the past, it didn't kill me. I want to know if the weather is going to kill me tonight, or tomorrow. I don't expect more than a few hours reliability. They haven't showed it yet.

Carol_Herman said...

Well, I'm all in favor of reducing the size of the government And, to do so, you need the Federal Government OUT of a lot of "established" rules agencies.

"Internships" are similar to volunteering. Especially if kids volunteer to help a politician, or a judge, get elected.

And, the real cancer? As soon as the government is involved ... you'll see it being illegal for moms to volunteer to the PTA, or the Boy Scouts. Or the Girl Scouts.

Nobody forces an intern to take a job! Hey, you can say you "don't have the time." And, bag groceries at supermarkets.

Back in the old days ... boys in high schools ... who hated the academic life ... would "hang out" in garages. Where they learned all about car repair.

Now, if you want me to take a bet? "Government" won't crack down! Because they want volunteers coming to them to work phone banks. And, to show up at rallies. Oh, and add to this the lobbyists who know all the big firms that accommodate their own kids ... who volunteer ...

Most of these "children" come from very wealthy homes, ya know.

Carol_Herman said...

Monica was an intern.

Guess why she got the job. Oh. And, don't forget her dad ... who had to call in favors.

Eric said...

Interns in engineering and computer science get paid real money, and do real work.

Not anywhere I've worked. They're normally still in school and are a net negative, even before pay, since they take time from normal employees that would be better spent on project work. It's strictly a recruiting tool - we know which ones to hire when they graduate.

sonofhobbes said...

The government is utilizing interns as much or more than the private sector--using them to do jobs that used to be filled by regular paid employees. These jobs aren't about "learning the business;" they're about getting the job done with no cost to the department. It will be hard for governmnet to "crack down" on unpaid internships in the private sector without calling attention to its own massive dependence on (willing) slave labor.

Jim Howard said...

I can't bring myself to suggest expanding any area of regulation, but the thought of unpaid internships makes me mad.

And the 'non-profits' are some of the worst offenders.

Maybe I hate unpaid internships because I'm in the software business. In software we pay our interns a fair wage, and most of them soon actually earn what we pay them and more.

I handle a lot of the HR work for the small company I work for, I was just reviewing the rules on interviewing.

In Texas you are supposed to pay the interviewee if you ask him to do any sort of 'real' work, or anything that looks like OJT.

If you just go by the Texas Workforce Commission website, I don't see how unpaid internships are even legal at all here in Texas.

I have nothing but contempt for any organization that uses unpaid interns, whatever the law says. As is so often the case, the law is an ass.

John Lynch said...

If you're poor you can't afford to work for free. You have to get someone to pay, somehow.

There are scholarships and stipends, but family is the #1 source of income for interns.

There's always exceptions, but if we're talking about the entire country it's obvious that most internships are going to a particular class of people.

I'm fairly poor and went to the college in my town. I never did internships because I couldn't afford it. It was hard enough to pay tuition even with the GI Bill. Of course people with well-off families have an advantage. It's silly to argue otherwise.

That doesn't necessarily mean that government needs to step in. The interns themselves are benefiting more than their employers. But if people really believe all the rhetoric about equality then internships certainly do qualify as a way for the educated class to get ahead that is not available to most people.

Revenant said...

I can't bring myself to suggest expanding any area of regulation, but the thought of unpaid internships makes me mad.

Why?

Students not only don't get paid for the classes they take -- they have to *pay* for the privilege of taking those classes.

Internships don't require you to pay, which makes them a relative bargain. It isn't like the business gets particularly useful work out of the interns.

Chip Ahoy said...

The capture and display of this Bottle Lady is deeply disturbing. Therefore her form must be released from the confines of that bottle.

I believe it is unlawful to unlawfully capture and display somebody unlawfully.

Apologies there Bottle Lady but the damage was too great and this is the best I could do.

Nora said...

I think internship should be unpaid.

If I learned something from my 2.5 degrees and decades of working experience, it's that education worth next to nothing without good!!! experience. I stopped my PhD when I realized that it's about learning in depth in pretty narrow field of knowledge. I'm talking about engineering, I'm a mechanical engineer.

We paid the living of our older kid during his unpaid internship, for 3+ months. It helped him to realise what he does and does not want to do in his area, and he is quite happy with the directions his work takes him. The younger one is graduating this year, and if he wants to do unpaid internship in the area that he is interested in, we'll make an effort to support him as well.

DEEBEE said...

You "repugs"! Just because you could not drape the soiled dress around Bill Clinton's neck, you have to find ways to still go after him -- MOVEON.ARRGHH
/sarc

Craig said...

The key to getting interviews at the placement center is to indicate on the request form that your major is Business with an emphasis in Finance and that your goal is to obtain an MBA. After you get the interview you can explain that you are actually a humanities major and that you like essay questions better than multiple choice or true and false.

Jose_K said...

So the government that do this:


http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/upshot/white-house-press-office-intern-opens-relationship-jfk-212312591.html

will control internships

Synova said...

"We paid the living of our older kid during his unpaid internship, for 3+ months."

I want to say "how lovely for you" except that it would sound way too snarky and in truth, it was wonderful you could do that. Not everyone can.

I don't dispute that internships are a good thing, but they really are limited to the upper class (or at least upper middle, professional parents) class.

I don't think that I want them to go away, but I wish that other, less privileged, strata of society had the same options... why not apprenticeship in a trade? That would seem a fantastic bargain when young people can't even get hired on at McDonalds.

RonF said...

The wise men and women of our government know far better than you do what's best for you. Imagine the chaos, the exploitation, the unequal treatment that would occur if people were left to arrange their own lives in the ways they found best. The sad truth is that few people, especially those who have not achieved a post-graduate education, are capable of seeing the truth of what is best for them. It is the duty of those few to make the decisions for the rest of us, and the duty of the rest of us to abide by those decisions.

1984 was supposed to be a warning, not a FUCKING INSTRUCTION MANUAL!

hawkeyedjb said...

"Leave people alone" is such a ... bizarre idea. I don't see that as a legitimate option.

Joe Schmoe said...

If the crackdown is needed because of dilution of wages, then what about illegal immigrant workers? Or anyone else getting paid under the table?

I suspect cracking down on unpaid internships would drive the practice underground, so to speak. The more the government tries to control private enterprise, the more it's going to drive its practices outside the purview of said government. Systeme D baby!

Joe Schmoe said...

If the issue is dilution of wages in the workforce, shouldn't we go after illegal workers or anyone working under the table, too? I'd bet those have a bigger effect on wages.

The more the government tries to control private industry, the more it's going to drive workers and wages underground, out of the purview of government. Go Systeme D!

Joe Schmoe said...

Sort of unrelated, but talk about creepy Big Brother. Google deleted my post within seconds the first time I tried to post it. I deleted my new profile pic, an unauthorized image of Cool Hand Luke eating hard-boiled eggs, and now it seems to have accepted me back in the fold. I guess I'll go picless for awhile.

ken in sc said...

When just out of the Navy, my son got a job in a steel mill by going to work with a friend and working for free for about a week. He did it on his own, he wasn't asked, but he got the job.

Revenant said...

I don't dispute that internships are a good thing, but they really are limited to the upper class (or at least upper middle, professional parents) class.

I'm sorry, but that is not even slightly true. I knew lots of people who did unpaid internships in college, and not a one of them was "upper middle class" or above. Some were even putting themselves through college.

You don't need much money to support yourself for three months, or even a year, if you're willing to live like a college student -- roommates, cheap food, public transportation, etc.