Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The many problems with unpaid internships

Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy is a new book by Ross Perlin about, as the title suggests, what's wrong with unpaid internships. (Perlin also recently did a New York Times op-ed about this.)

From The New Republic's review of the book:

The economic and legal problems with this arrangement are glaring. Internships exclude those whose families cannot afford to support them; they displace paid workers; they allow companies to dodge liability and colleges to cash in on “internship for credit” tuition dollars.
As Matthew Yglesias has observed, the fact that employers use internships to skirt minimum wage laws blinds us to the negative consequences of those laws:
[Y]ou don’t see a decline in employment because people can just find loopholes.
The review also points out a deeper problem with internships:
“Once you’ve been told that your work isn’t worth anything,” Perlin rightly observes, “you stop taking pride in it, you stop giving it your best.”
But is that true? Many people are more passionate about and take more pride in their hobbies than their paid work. If Perlin is right, however, this would be a strong argument for paying kids (in the form of money or gifts) for getting good grades in school.

Molly Fischer, the author of the New Republic book review, notes the irony that she once interned for Benjamin Kunkel, who wrote one of the blurbs on the back of the book. Fischer says:
Benjamin Kunkel, I recall once having to deliver something to your apartment. Benjamin Kunkel, if you are reading this, I did not feel exploited. But my pleasant summer at a literary magazine puts me in the minority of my peer group.
I wonder: do The New Republic's unpaid internships somehow not lead to all the problems that Perlin and Fischer point out?