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Finally, The Truth About Internships

intern nation The unpaid internship has become a modern form of slave labor and is completely warping the economy. The idea that it will help you “get your foot in the door” rarely pans out, and the slot that was once called an entry level job, is now held permanently by unpaid interns who cycle in and out. The Sunday New York Times (5.6.12) reports that, given the terrible job market, young grads feel they have little choice, but this assumes a person can live in New York City for a year with no income — guess who that describes. But in “Jobs Few, Grads Flock to Unpaid Internships” we are reminded that the United States Department of Labor has rules and regulations defining internships. The Times article says,

. . . if employers do not want to pay their interns, the internships must resemble vocational education, the interns must work under close supervision, their work cannot be used as a substitute for regular employees and their work cannot be of immediate benefit to the employer.

But in practice, there is little to stop employers from exploiting interns. The Labor Department rarely cracks down on offenders, saying that it has limited resources and that unpaid interns are loath to file complaints for fear of jeopardizing any future job search.

The new hero on this issue is Ross Perlin author of Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy. He summarized his findings in a piece for the New York Times, “These Are Not Your Father’s Internships.” And here are some fun facts culled from the book for the review run in the Washington Post (written by an unpaid intern at Slate.com): 77% of unpaid interns are women, and Disney has 8,ooo interns. Disney!

Perlin ends his piece “Ultimately, the government has a fundamental responsibility for ensuring that the labor market remains a level playing field and that America continues to be a land of opportunity. The law has said for decades that unpaid work, with few exceptions, is illegal. It’s time to enforce the law.”