Thursday, April 8, 2010

Are Unpaid Internships Unfair?

Memoirs of an Economics Student opines:

That is when companies and organizations offer unpaid internships they are favoring students who can afford it, so there ends up being a "price" to gaining experience. So those who are already fortunate enough to have a few thousand dollars saved up or who have families that are able to support them are given privilege in obtaining experience in often prestigious corporations or organizations, that may very well influence the trajectory of their future career paths. Unfair. This crowds in students who already were more privileged (by being wealthier) and leaves the rest of students (the majority) with blank resumes and still struggling to make rent as a barista.
First, while of course the rich have an inherent advantage, unpaid internships shouldn't be outlawed. Young adults from rich families also have an easier time paying for college and graduate school without having to work a full-time job at the same time, which seems to be much the same thing, yet this does not cause widespread uproar.

Second, there is a "price" to everything, even if it doesn't involve money. Working any internship or pursuing any other activity prevents you from pursuing alternative activities (this is known as an opportunity cost).

There is a demand for the work of interns and a corresponding demand for internship experience. It's easy to see how setting a price floor that requires some minimum hourly pay would reduce the number of internships available and make both sides worse off.

This argument reminds me of a blog post arguing that journalists shouldn't work for free or for low pay. Because journalism has many nonmonetary benefits (it's pretty neat to see your name in print), many people still get enormous benefits from freelancing, even if their monetary pay works out to less than minimum wage.

Remember, it's not like anyone is being forced into an unpaid employment opportunity. People would not accept such positions if the benefits to them did not outweigh the costs.