Unpaid internships unfairly target low income students

Work experience crucial to succeed at next level, low-SES students struggle to find paid positions

· Sep 13, 2017 Tweet

Kirby Wright/The Badger Herald

Increasing competition and an inflated economy make it more than difficult for recent college graduates to attain jobs in their respective fields. But perhaps the largest obstacle in the way is the requirement of experience. How is it possible to have a minimum of two years of experience for an entry level job?

The answer sounds easy enough — internships. Although internships provide valuable experience and open doors to network for future job opportunities, the financial stipulations make them unattainable, unfair and not useful for low-income students.

Internships themselves are not evil — in fact, most companies find them desirable. More than eighty percent of employers want their new employees to participate in formal internships. 

As a result, college students are so eager for work experience that many are willing to work for free, and naturally, companies are enthusiastic to capitalize on free labor. This may sound like a symbiotic relationship, but it is only attainable for students who can afford to spend several hours a day working without being paid.

Unpaid internships unjustly exploit college studentsAfter high school, students struggle in the increasingly competitive college application process. They are then ransacked by life-altering debt. You would think, Read…

Even though an internship is not a job, it still has the same expenses as one. Rent, transportation, health insurance, utilities, phone bills and the like still exist, and could be exponentially larger than what a student is used to, depending on where the internship is located.

Full time internships are intense and do not leave very much time to eat, sleep, or study, let alone hold down a part time job — the hours that could be spent working in a lower field while getting paid are instead spent working for free.

If a student’s family can afford to provide for them financially while they pursue an internship, all is well. But that is not a realistic option for most students, especially those who are low-income or receive financial aid. As such, low-income students are at a disadvantage compared to wealthier students when it comes to job experience and chances of being hired, despite the promising claims of “connections” and “real world experience,” which unpaid internships offer.

Financial situation should have no place in determining the success of students after graduation. The only influencers should be skills and ambition.

If financial stressors were not enough to deter someone from an unpaid internship, the fact that they do not increase one’s employability might. The National Association of Colleges and Employers conducted a study between internship type and employability, showing there is very little difference between hiring rates for unpaid interns, at 37 percent, and those who were never interns, at 35 percent. However, students who had some type of paid internship were hired at a rate of 63 percent. As a consequence, students who were unpaid interns take much lower paying jobs than students who were paid interns.

Internships don’t equate to free labor, regardless of definitionThere are stepping-stones prior to graduation. Often one of these stones is the search for an internship and learning in Read…

So when you start to apply for internships in the coming semester, or even summer, remember the benefits to being paid. Your knowledge, effort and expertise are worth more than chronic volunteer work. Regardless of financial background, a lack of an internship will not be detrimental to your career, nor your life — rather, it may improve its quality by lightening the load off your back and increasing the weight in your wallet.

Abby Steinberg ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in political science and intending to major in journalism. 


This article was published Sep 13, 2017 at 6:17 pm and last updated Sep 14, 2017 at 10:39 am


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