The Right to Earn A Living: Why I Don’t Believe in Unpaid Internships
We all know that the professional world is changing. Brands are on Facebook, executives are blogging, and young professionals like myself can find jobs using Twitter. However, some things will always stay the same… or so I hope.
In the early 80′s, my mom came to America as an immigrant from the Philippines. She believed that this country afforded her the luxury that her home country did not – the right to earn a living. She believed that through hard work, networking, and perseverance, she would have the opportunity to not only take care of herself, but to give back to those whom she loved.
She believed in the American dream.
My mom, along with the countless others who came before and after her, made a choice to find success in this country. As immigrants, they did not come expecting charity or aid from the government. They came with no sense of entitlement. Instead, they came with purpose and a work ethic. They knew how to save money because they couldn’t afford not to.
Where is the American dream today?
When I look at the world around me, I see the fibre of America unraveling.
Adults are losing their jobs while soon to be college graduates are applying for internships.
College admissions is more competitive than ever, and the cost of a four-year program at most tier one schools is a $200K investment.
Students are graduating with more credit card debt than in years past thanks to an adult world that has done a pretty awful job of demonstrating how to manage personal finances.
Young people in this country no longer understand how to save as a result of living in a world defined by excess and loans.
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I was prompted to write this post after reading a comment from John Cass who expressed that “sometimes you don’t have to pay for interns, gen y will throw themselves at you.” After expressing my belief that employers must reward workers, I got the following responses directed towards me:
In my opinion, employers can afford to mentor AND pay their interns ($10-$15/hour or $500-$2000 stipends for the semester). What I don’t think we can afford is to tell young people that it’s okay to not have a source of income. I understand the value of professional networking and I understand the value of learning from experienced professionals. However, I also understand the burden of being young.
To put things into perspective, when you’re in college, it’s not enough to have tuition and room and board taken care of. Chances are, you need some kind of suplemental income in order to pay for things like a laptop, books, and lab fees. If you’re in an urban setting, it’s virutally impossible to resist the temptation of eating out once in a while or purchasing a monthly subway or rail pass. For those at rural schools, having a car is usually helpful and travel home during the semester can really add up.
There are leisure and recreational expenses to account for, things like spring break trips, movies, sporting events, fraternity dues, dance classes, and maybe the occasional beer or two (*sarcasm*).
Given these expenses, how can we justify an unpaid internship? John was right in that I know tons of students who would jump at the opportunity to work for free. However, the debate isn’t whether students will work for free or not, but whether they should.
In my opinion, free labor is the antithesis of what makes us Americans.
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In the end, we’ll all make choices for our own personal reasons and find ways of justifying either side. Some students will choose unpaid internships while others will choose to work in jobs like retail, bartending, or mailroom envelop stuffing. The former will benefit from corporate networking and training while the latter will benefit by working towards financial independence.
If you were a student or recent graduate in today’s recession, which route would you choose?
Photo credit: emdot