Unpaid Internships Are About Exploitation, Not Helping The Jobless

Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, gamingvulture.tumblr.com. And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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82 Responses

  1. Tod Kelly says:

    ” {Yglesias says, ‘But where educational value is present, there’s nothing wrong with paying in the form of labor rather than paying with money.’

    As soon as you accept this statement, all bets are off.”

    Isn’t this what you’re doing right now on OT? It’s certainly what I’ve been doing.Report

    • Ethan Gach in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Not sure if this is what you’re talking about, but I think there’s a meaningful distinction to be drawn between giving away one’s labor, and letting someone else profit from it free of charge.

      This is a common thing in the writing space, where people distinguish (accurately or not) between writing at an all volunteer place, and writing somewhere for “exposure” even though only a few at the top of the site actually profit monetarily from it.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        My own understanding of internships is that they are things given to primarily to students, and that those students are then rewarded with a far higher chance of getting both employment and a higher starting salary upon graduation. And they are almost always given course credit from the school they are attending. (My high school senior son is doing an internship at a radio station right now.)

        Are internships different now? (i.e.: have hey become the new “contractor?”)

        If not, isn’t an internship an investment at best, and a class you take off campus at worst?Report

      • Ethan Gach in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        “many current internships would seem to violate the rules laid out in the Fair Labor Standards Act, including that the experience be ‘similar to training which would be given in an educational environment’ and that the ‘employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern.’”

        That’s the problem. If the rules were simply enforced, I don’t think this would really be an issue.

        Sure, the idea of taking a practical course at a place of potential employment, where you get skills and experience that you can only get “on the job” is a great thing. And I agree with Yglesias that more on the job training is needed. But I think the contention of critics (and me) is that in too many cases, the ratio of “training” to “work that benefits the employer” is off.

        As per the guidelines, the internship is supposed to be a net benefit provided by the employer to the intern. While that’s not always an easy thing to measure, I think there are enough non-border cases to come to the conclusion that this has become a more serious and prolific form of exploitation.

        I mean, you can go intern at your local Wells Fargo branch. And I guarantee you they are doing work, a majority of which, would otherwise be done by people who are paid an hourly wage.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        Tod, there are more than a few internships that are for people who already graduated college and would typically be seen as an entry level job except you work for free. As I understand it, this is particular common in the art, fashion, and museum worlds. Its sort of like an apprenticeship except you don’t get room and board like you did in the Middle Ages.

        Another issue is that many internships, especially at places that are ostensibly for profit, are abusing the letter and spirit of the law. The law governing unpaid internships explicitly states that the employer is not allowed to gain any tangible benefit from the unpaid labor provided by the intern and that the intern is not supposed to perform routine, minimal tasks. Its supposed to be about training. Lots of internships, especially in film and entertainment it seems, involve more mundane tasks like getting coffee, taking down lunch orders, and cleaning up messes rather than anything actually involved in producing a movie. In the legal world, a lot of interns spend their days making photocopies and doing other minimal but necessary work that isn’t even related to the law for free.Report

      • I don’t see how getting course credit for a (presumably unpaid) internship is a mark in favor of that internship. If anything, it suggests to me the student is now having to pay for the privilege of working for free, and if he/she quits, not only does he/she lose whatever letter of rec or certificate of completion they had coming, but they also lose the course credit they had paid for. (Tod’s son’s situation might be different, since he’s in high school and presumably is not paying for the credit, but I’m thinking more of college credit.)Report

    • Chris in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      I’m not sure the two situations are at all analogous except in the sense that you and Ethan are gaining experience in writing for an audience here, just as interns are gaining experience making and pouring coffee working in an industry in which they might want to work after graduating. However, most interns work for for-profit, or at least revenue-generating companies, in positions that would have to be paid if they weren’t called “internships” and offered only to current students, while the vast majority of bloggers write for free, and as far as I can tell, the OT’s only source of revenue is donations from readers for upkeep and incidentals.

      If we’re going treat internships abstractly enough that they’re comparable to blogging for a non-monetized blog, we might as well start the discussion about paying elementary school students for going to school, because that’s going to be encompassed by whatever conceptual structure is abstract enough to encompass unpaid internships at a Fortune 500 company and writing for an OT sub-blog.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    Is the world better off now that Conde Nast has gotten rid of its unpaid internships?Report

  3. Chris says:

    What evens the playing field more: getting rid of all internships, so that neither students whose parents are wealthy enough to support them for a summer or a semester or however long the internship lasts nor students whose parents could not afford to get them, or keeping unpaid internships so that only students whose parents can afford to support them during the internship can get them, and the experience and career leg-up that often comes with them?

    Ideally, we’d pay interns enough that students of lower SES could get them and benefit from them, but short of that, I think I’d rather see internships done away with entirely. I’m willing to be convinced that would do more harm than good, though.Report

  4. NewDealer says:

    I am glad you commented on this silly piece of slatepitch by Matt Y. This was just as bad or possibly worse than his article last week on how the world needs more 88 million dollar apartments.

    Matt Y takes the contrarian Slate pitch to a work of art and then makes it a piece of absurdity.

    He fails to note that the the holders of most unpaid internships are in college, grad school, or possibly finished with their educations. A lot of newly admitted lawyers took unpaid internships just to get some experience during the law school crisis.

    We do need more apprenticeships but these should be paid positions. There used to be stories about people starting in the mail room or as office pages and working their way to the top or close to it. It was not uncommon as late as the 1950s or 60s to have a lot of business people without college degrees. Does this happen anymore? No.Report

  5. daveNYC says:

    And things like this are why people get frothing at the mouth about Yglesias. He starts off by saying that these internships are probably illegal, but says that the experience gained is worth not getting paid. He completely missed the logical conclusion that if companies can get people to do work for free by calling the jobs ‘internships’, then why would they ever actually pay real employees to do those jobs?

    Then there’s the more basic issue that he seems to be accepting the idea that companies shouldn’t have to invest any money in training their employees.Report

  6. j r says:

    There is a fundamental issue at the heart of this whole internship debate that makes an amenable solution quite difficult. There are organizations that rely on interns to do meaningful work and there are organizations where interns are just there because. From an outside perspective, how do you distinguish between the two situations? This is one of those areas where regulation is notoriously bad.

    Further, an intern that comes into the job with a lot of specific knowledge or who catches on particularly quick will find himself with lots of interesting and meaningful work to do and will often have a very rewarding internship experience. An intern who doesn’t have much knowledge and who is not will often be relegated to performing menial tasks or just left to his own devices. Forcing companies to pay minimum wage for their interns might cut down on the instances of the latter, but it wall also negatively affect lots of the former. That’s the trade off. There is no world in which simply forcing companies to pay interns will magically increase the number of paid internships. More likely, companies that don’t value their interns enough to pay them will simply stop having interns or just have fewer paid interns, who will invariably be those with the most human capital and the most connections.

    At the end of the day, the internship problem is a symptom of a larger set of issues, namely the rampant credentialism that forces young people to chase expensive, and often useless degrees, and more and more bullet points for their resumes. The more regulatory hurdles you place between employers and prospective employees, the more you will increase said credentialism.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to j r says:

      There isn’t anything that can be done about credentialism. Most employers have lost any interest in training people on the job in entry-level positions. They want experienced people that at least kind of know what they are doing. Technology destroyed many of the traditional entry-level positions like mail-room clerk as well. This means that the educational system has the responsibility of training people for work and the only way to demonstrate your skills is with a degree of some sort leading to credentialism.Report

      • j r in reply to LeeEsq says:

        To a certain extent, you are correct that this issue has no pure policy fix. As long as individuals chase credentials, employers will hire the most credentialed. And as long as employers hire the most credentialed, individuals will chase credentials. Until people decide to stop playing this game, it will go on.

        However, there are any number of policy choices that we have made that drives people towards credentialism. And there are any number of things that we can now do that would help the trend reverse itself. We could stop subsidizing higher education and allow the price to be set by something approximating an actual equilibria. We could change the labor laws to allow companies to hire people in apprentice roles. We could relax the licensing and regulatory regimes that keeps so many people from starting their own businesses and competing with established players.

        We likely won’t do any of that, because the constituencies are too powerful on either side. Conservatives don’t want to force corporations to do anything differently. And progressives falsely believe that they can simple make economics subservient to politics.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq says:

        How would you distinguish between an internship and an apprenticeship?Report

  7. J@m3z Aitch says:

    distorting the rest of the labor market

    Asserted without evidence.

    I wouldn’t claim internships can’t be abused, but the great majority go to college students for positions where the employer most likely wouldn’t be hiring someone. It’s seen as an out-of-classroom educational experience; my students learn things in their internships they can’t learn in my classroom, and they have an opportunity to see how some of the principals they’ve learned apply to the real world.

    It’s awfully easy to put on our exploitation blinders and bash everything that doesn’t pay a living wage, but it’s not a particularly meaningful way to analyze everything.Report

    • Ethan Gach in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

      I’m arguing in the context of Yglesias’ post, in which he specifically endorses the internships distortive effect.Report

    • Jim Heffman in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

      “I wouldn’t claim internships can’t be abused, but the great majority go to college students for positions where the employer most likely wouldn’t be hiring someone.”

      This sounds remarkably similar to people who say that it’s OK to pirate movies because if they’d been forced to pay then they wouldn’t have bought any.Report

    • Dave in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

      I think you pay far too much attention to Yglesias, though. It’s almost as though you think he’s worth paying attention to. 😉

      I don’t think many of us in the business world pay much attention to him. I know I don’t.Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

      @jm3z-aitch , the people I know who had unpaid internships were fetching coffee and making copies. The people with paid internships were designing home solar arrays and performing QA tests.

      The last numbers I saw showed that someone who worked an unpaid internship was less likely to receive a job offer than someone who had no internship at all.

      So while I don’t deny that internships can be valuable educational experiences, it seems to me that the paid ones are usually where the value is.Report

      • Dave in reply to Alan Scott says:

        the people I know who had unpaid internships were fetching coffee and making copies. The people with paid internships were designing home solar arrays and performing QA tests.

        The people I know who had unpaid internships (people that have worked under me for example) were working in valuable support functions. Granted, they weren’t a direct part of the revenue generation process, but they were getting very valuable experience as well as getting networking and contacts that will undoubtedly be of value when they graduate and pursue a career in my business.

        To suggest that the unpaid interns that worked for my firm were exploited in some way is laughably absurd. One reason is that they want to be here. Another reason is that since we are the ones that are the revenue generators and they aren’t, there is little if any way for us to “exploit” them to generate profits. If anything, it’s a net cost to us because of the time and effort it takes to train and constantly review their work.

        Nor are they responsible for shining my shoes, making my coffee and being the commanders in chief of the copy machines and the receptionist’s phone.

        So while I don’t deny that internships can be valuable educational experiences, it seems to me that the paid ones are usually where the value is.

        The two former interns I have would strongly disagree with you. Plus, few interns realize the value of hanging around with me. That’s worth breaking the law right there.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Alan Scott says:

        Well, Alan, I’m the prof of record for one or two internships almost every term. And I just don’t see that happening much. If I was to hear of that being a major part of the internship I could probably have our college revoke that place as an approved internship site.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Alan Scott says:

        That’s cool. Clearly you guys have experience with a better set of unpaid internships that I have.

        I was a theater major going to an engineering school. The tech internships were usually educational and usually paid–and therefore getting an internship that didn’t pay signaled to potential employers “I’m not worth very much”

        Theater internships were along the lines of “I’ll get your coffee and screen your calls, and in three months maybe you can watch my demo reel or read my screenplay”, and unpaid.Report

  8. Ethan Gach says:

    It’s worth reiterating the importance of distinguishing between internships structured in accordance with the law, and those that aren’t. My criticism here is reserved for the latter.Report

    • j r in reply to Ethan Gach says:

      Why? This seems like one of those areas where the law is absolutely back-assward.

      For instance there are instances where it is illegal for a student to work for free, but it becomes perfectly legal once that student agrees to pay some educational institution thousands of dollars to get credits for that work.

      How is that anything but a net loss for the intern?Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to j r says:

        @j-r , that’s actually illegal under the law–the law’s just not enforced.

        Work-for-free internships are illegal. The only legal kind are the ones that are paid, or the ones that aren’t work.Report

  9. Patrick says:

    The fact that well-designed internship programs offer training that isn’t similar to what you’d get in school is part of what makes them valuable.

    The funny part about this sentence is that I read it and immediately thought, “Oh yeah, unpaid internships are generally ‘training in how to be an office dog-body’, which isn’t the sort of training you get in school (barring some graduate degree programs, I hear).”

    This is an internship. Paid. With bennies. And actually valuable.

    I don’t know anybody in the coding world that looks at an unpaid internship as a marker for coding quality. Generally speaking, anybody in the coding world who is serious about the gig would assume that ‘unpaid internship’ == ‘you didn’t do anything important’, which is not a signal for much.

    I’m trying to think of an industry where “someone who is learning” isn’t still “producing valuable output” unless what they’re learning isn’t particularly valuable in which case either your industry is a joke or the internship is… and I’m coming up blank. If you’re producing valuable output, you should be paid.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Patrick says:

      That’s a tautology, since (I am told) people are always paid the marginal product of their labor. That the AEI doesn’t pay their research assistants says everything you need to know about the quality of research done there.Report

      • j r in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Brookings doesn’t pay their interns either. Cato does.

        Do you want to work that into some grand theory about the quality of work and the economic philosophies of conservatives, progressives and libertarians? Personally, I think it would be a stretch.Report

      • I almost took a Cato internship once, but ultimately couldn’t make the stipend/D.C. living expense work.Report

      • Roger in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        There is more going on than a wage. The employer has training expenses, and the intern is using it as an investment not unlike an education except it is less expensive. I think a lot of people could save many tens of thousands of dollars by getting an internship rather than a degree.Report

      • Kim in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        I don’t think that for-profit companies ought to derive profit from volunteers.
        Sure, if you want an internship, fine. go be a candystripper at a hospital.
        Go write the new version of xvid.

        But, it’s pushing it to say “here, we made more of a profit because we got free labor!”
        Corporations work in such a way to create more money, and if you give them a way they can get labor for free, some of them are going to exploit it.

        Imagine an internship where you can never get a recommendation out of it (isn’t hard, nda). Now, imagine where you’re kept out of talking with your colleagues, and don’t realize that it’s only one in a 100 who get a job from the company when you’re done. (Isn’t hard. work from home).

        Now, is that a good bargain? When the company is systematically removing your bargaining power, deliberately and with malicious intent…

        And this is just me, thinking for twenty seconds. You’re the businessman. Surely you can come up with something far more unfair than this.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Roger is right. The onsolete and expensive B.A. can be replaced by the FC (Facio Coffee).Report

      • Roger in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Actually profit is by and large a factor of relative performance, not absolute. Thus if internships lowered the cost of labor over time the benefits would be competed away to the advantage of the consumer.

        As I wrote below my expectations of widespread apprenticeships would be higher productivity, lower prices or better products for consumers, similar profit for firms and less class immobility (as lower skilled workers got much needed skills), and higher net prosperity.

        On the college issue, there are untold thousands SPENDING money to get a resume that has a worthless degree. Some of these could save themselves and their parents a boatload of money by learning something productive. Not all. Some.

        Btw, elsewhere in these comments we are seeing the old lump of labor fallacy.Report

    • morat20 in reply to Patrick says:

      My internship as a coder was paid. Quite well, in fact (I was in college at the time) — not quite twice minimum wage, and about half was pure learning and the other half was actual real work, if under the eye of someone more experienced.

      It was the draining, crappy, sloggy work no one wanted to do — but I was paid for it.

      I understand the company got a nice tax break for offering the program, and had a raft of people applying upon graduation whom they already had some work history and experience with.Report

  10. Ethan Gach says:

    Pursuit of Happiness is probably the perfect test-case for this whole debate. Do you think the internship Will Smith’s character gets should exist or not?

    I think where people fall on that question, and why, lays the two sides bare.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Ethan Gach says:

      What was it like? I never saw the movie.Report

    • j r in reply to Ethan Gach says:

      If I am correct, Chrs Gardner’s stockbroker internship was a program where the firm hired a bunch of people to cold call and try to generate new business over some period of time for no pay. At the end of that period, those who had built business were hired.*

      Personally, I’m agnostic about such an arrangement. I would probably never want to do it myself, but I imagine that there are lots of people who want to break into stock trading that would love the chance. More importantly, it illustrates two important points.

      The first is that the company gains very little directly from the work that the interns are doing. The internship program exists almost solely to identify those individuals who can do the job well. Certainly, it wouldn’t break the company to pay these people some nominal amount, and if I were running such a company I most likely would do just that. However, the number of interns that the company will hire for pay will be lower than the number of unpaid interns the company would hire. That means that there are fewer people getting a shot with the paid internship.

      The second thing is that this way of hiring stockbrokers has gone away, for the most part. Investment firms now hire the kids from the top universities, with the highest GPAs, the most impressive resumes and the most connections. So, before you had a system that strikes some as unfair, but that provided some opportunity for non-traditional candidates to break into the industry. And now you have a system that might be considered less exploitative to those who get in, but that restricts access to those with the right credentials. I’m not sure that the change from the former to the letter can really be considered as more in line with the dictates of social justice.

      *I’m not sure how the hiring decision worked, whether it was anyone who generated over a certain amount of business or only the top performer(s) in the program. In the movie, I believe that only one person got hired, but I’m not sure that’s how it worked in real life.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

        the company gains very little directly from the work that the interns are doing.

        Other than the business that does get built and the training of the people they do hire.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to j r says:

        jr, has there really been that big a change in how elite employers in the past hired as compared to the present? I’m not really that sure. In past for the most part, not only did you need to go to the right schools but you needed to be White and Protestant in order to get the job. It was part of the old boy’s network. The current system might be overly focused on getting candidates from certain schools, see the Chronicle of Higher Education article “Cornell and Brown are Second Tier”, but race, religion, and gender are much less relevant than they were in the past.Report

      • j r in reply to j r says:

        Other than the business that does get built and the training of the people they do hire.

        Except that stockbroker interns don’t build that much business. If you start with a class of 20 people doing cold calls, most of them will be very bad at it. The whole purpose is to identify the five people who will generate business.

        has there really been that big a change in how elite employers in the past hired as compared to the present?

        Depends on the business. Investment banking is and has always been about the right schools. Other areas of financial services are different. Sales and Trading used to be where you could work your way onto a desk from a support role. Lots of old traders are guys with working class roots. That’s changing as they hire more and more quants and MBAs.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

        Except that stockbroker interns don’t build that much business. If you start with a class of 20 people doing cold calls, most of them will be very bad at it. The whole purpose is to identify the five people who will generate business.

        And do generate business and are valuable. Are you really claiming the whole thing is insupportable if the other 15 get minimum wage?Report

      • NewDealer in reply to j r says:


        Or find the people who have enough well-off friends and relatives that they can beg into businessReport

      • Kolohe in reply to j r says:

        “The second thing is that this way of hiring stockbrokers has gone away, for the most part.”

        I think this is conflating ‘stockbrokers’ with the traders. There are still plenty of straight up sales jobs (and not just pushing stocks and other retail investments – the radio is full of ads these days to ‘join their sales team’ of their corporate parent), and those rarely require anything in way of education, resume, or even experience. Those type of jobs also tend to be soul-crushing, with high turnover and very few that actually get the El Dorado or even the set of steak knives in the end.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

        But they do get the chance to meet Alec Baldwin and his fancy watch.Report

      • Dave in reply to j r says:

        @newdealer ,

        Or find the people who have enough well-off friends and relatives that they can beg into business

        If they know enough people like that, chances are very good that they’re affluent themselves and are doing unpaid internships at Wall Street banks as opposed to the retail brokerage shops.Report

  11. Randy Harris says:

    I’m a CPA who owns a small accounting firm. Counting me, there are three staff members. With tax season coming up, I’ll be needing clerical help. I could do what I did last tax season- Bring in someone from a temp agency. However, it seems that from my standpoint I can do much better using an unpaid intern. I could contact the local university and post a notice for a tax intern. Then, I can have the intern do mostly clerical work! I get free labor and the intern gets valuable experience. A win-win situation! Now why didn’t I think of this last year?

    In reality, if I were to offer an internship it would be a paid position. Also, an internship consisting primarily of clerical seems unfair to the intern. The only time I tried to hire an intern the job market was much stronger and the position remained unfilled after those was only one (unimpressive) applicant.

    It just doesn’t seem right to not pay employees! I’ll be calling the temp agency soon.Report

    • morat20 in reply to Randy Harris says:

      Also, you’d technically be in violation of the law if you used an unpaid intern in that position. Unpaid internships are supposed to be entirely for training. Doing actual, productive work is against the law — because you’re not paying for their profitable labor.

      It can be a fine line to walk in some places, I’d imagine.

      But if they’re work is saving you money, it’s probably illegal. 🙂Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to Randy Harris says:

      You say “if I were to offer an internship it would be a paid position.”

      Can you talk about the reasons why?Report

  12. Michael Drew says:

    This is where my confusion begins. Is Yglesias saying that those seeking to abolish exploitative internships have it all wrong, or that the current law regarding how they must be structured does?

    Had the exact same question immediately myself. Until he clears that up (which it’s kind of astounding he doesn’t do in the whole article), it’s completely unclear what the hell he’s really saying on this topic, other than that unpaid internships ought to be allowed to exist (they are), and those who want to completely get rid of them are wrong to (fine, but they’re very unlikely to succeed, and Yglesias rises a number of other particulars that all depend on whether he’s saying that status quo law and those seeking to enforce it are wrong, or just that those seeking to make it much more restrictive are).Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Michael Drew says:

      Matt seemed to be playing the role of naive commentator like many pundits.

      He noted correctly that college/university is too astronomically expensive. He also noted that more people would probably benefit from on the job training. This is true.

      What he did not note is that most unpaid internships go to college students, grad students, and college or advanced degree holders.

      Rather he seemed to imagine a fantasy world where unpaid internships/apprenticeships will replace college education. He didn’t say how we would get there but he just wanted to tsk tsk at the liberals fighting against unpaid internships as being counter productive to their goals because of #slatepitch and all that.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

        I imagine that the general thought that opposes unpaid internships is that internships happen exactly the same way that they do now, only they pay around $30k/year and have medical.

        It’s like increasing the minimum wage. Same number of employed people, just making more money.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:


        I am not quite parsing your first paragraph. Of course entry level jobs are better than unpaid internships? Would unpaid internships be better if obtainable without being a college student or graduate? Maybe. They would be better if they were actual apprenticeships or training programs that lead to jobs and the development of real skills and caused people to get hired without the credentialism of a degree. If these new unpaid internships just become 17 and 18 years olds getting coffee/lunch and making photocopies, the conclusion I must reach is that they would not be better than the current system but more exploitation. Getting coffee and lunch and making photocopies is called being an admin assistant, it is a job and should be paid.

        The minimum wage issue is interesting and I suspect it shows that the left and right are talking past each other or have different policy goals. Right-wing/libertarian economists like to talk about how minimum wage laws reduce employment numbers. This might or might not be true. I have not be swayed by their arguments or evidence yet. Liberals talk about how it is impossible to survive on minimum wage job incomes. I suspect more people on the left care about raising the quality of life for people via higher wages. Is it better to have more people employed at wages that are poverty level or have fewer people employed but making decent to good money? What does it say about an economy/society if X amount of people are doomed to labor that does not lead to them being able to support themselves?

        My point was that Matt Y was being naive and missing key points about the current system or imaging his ideal system but neglecting the key points on how to get there. This is universally annoying in all pundits regardless of their ideology.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

        Yeah, I messed that sentence up. Let me try again:

        The people who oppose unpaid internships (like the ones at Conde Nast) want those internships to exist (and perhaps even be expanded!), they just imagine that this will manifest itself with interns making $30k/year w/ medical and nothing else changes.

        For example, the distress that Conde Nast abandoned its unpaid interns strikes me as being funny in the whole “gallows humor” way. “WHAT IN THE HELL DID YOU EXPECT???”

        And it seems to me that the expectation was exactly everything as it was now, only with more money and insurance.

        (And, for that matter, that’s how I imagine the expectations for minimum wage increases for fast food workers would work as well… it’s exactly like right now, with twice as big paychecks.)Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:


        I am not sure that you are right here. I’d personally rather have the Conde Nasts of the world offer no internships that unpaid ones. I don’t think those internships had much value or use anyway. They often seemed to go against the spirit of internship laws and guidelines from what I heard and read.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to NewDealer says:

        I don’t think that’s necessarily true, Jaybird.

        I mean, I can’t speak for the Conde Nast internships specifically. But as best I can figure out, unpaid internships tend to be the kind where the intern fetches coffee.

        Say company X has seven unpaid interns that get coffee and make copies. Given that, I’d find both of the following alternatives preferable:

        1) Without those interns, company X hires two office assistants to do the work.
        2) Everybody gets their own coffee, which means there’s enough extra work that Company X hires one more Journalist/Programmer/Whatever.

        That’s not preserving the internships but having them pay $30k. It’s replacing a bunch of unpaid positions with only one or two paid positions.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer says:

        But you’re depriving the interns of the feeling of accomplishment they get from learning how all the paid employees take their coffee. And you’re removing the bottom rung of the ladder that starts with menial unpaid internships and can lead to highly skilled unpaid internships.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:

        Alan brings up another good point. 1-4 paid positions is better than 7 unpaid internships.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

        Do we have numbers on how many jobs were created in the wake of Conde Nast’s intern program ending?Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:


        Not yet as far as I know and I don’t think it will be instant. It takes a while for these things to play out.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer says:


        We know how many were lost, for any reasonable definition of “job”.Report

  13. Kazzy says:

    What are your feelings on student-teaching and other forms of “supervised” feedwork? Not only are many students (all undergrad and some graduate) unpaid, but you have to actually pay to play. One year, I earned $35K at a job I secured on my own but accrued as $12K tuition bill so a graduate advisor could observe me a handful of times and meet with me weekly. And I was one of the lucky ones who had full-time employment with benefits.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

      It seems somewhat better because it involves actual training and feedback but I don’t like the needing to pay part.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:

        The thing is that the training came primarily from the school. Yet the university raked big. They do usually compensate the cooperating teachers with some free credits, but it still feels like I got jobbed. Not all credit hours demand the same of the university and pricing should reflect that.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to NewDealer says:

        You might have gotten jobbed, but maybe not by as much as you think. If you were meeting with your adviser for an hour a week, charging you for a three or four unit class seems pretty reasonable. That adviser could be using time spent on you and three or four other intern teachers to teach a 20-person class.

        I’ll note my current teacher training program has two 3-unit classes that need to be taken by of the standard student teachers, but intern teachers have to take only a single 3-unit class.Report

  14. Roger says:

    The widespread option of unpaid internships makes total sense to me. I believe it would lower prices, improve productivity, improve worker skills , and reduce outrageous four and six year expenses at useless colleges in useless fields. I believe It would on net make us more prosperous.

    Long term it would have no impact on employer profitability as competition would eliminate excess profits.

    I suggest we try it immediately.Report

    • NobAkimoto in reply to Roger says:

      If internships were more of an apprenticeship in technical fields or the like, I can understand them being useful. The thing here, though, is that the types of internships that are unpaid that Yglesias is praising are mostly in white collar fields where a substantial amount of credentialism is expected even before you can qualify to apply for said internship.Report