Should unpaid internships be illegal?



Should unpaid internships be illegal?

By Tyit


Unpaid internships are part and parcel of the college experience for many, but they’re also a barrier to opportunity and social mobility. Critics say unpaid internships prevent poor and middle-class students from gaining the experience they need for full-time employment after graduation. Proponents of unpaid internships say they’re a necessary evil. Many of the positions wouldn’t exist if employers had to pay, and students need to get experience somehow. What do you think?



Students need work experience and sometimes that means taking on unpaid work in the industry. Unpaid internships are not inherently exploitative. They give students much needed experience that can be used as a stepping stone to a better paid internship or a full-time job down the road.

Unpaid internships – are they forced labor? Huh? I thought they were voluntary. If a student is being exploited, exactly what is stopping him/her from leaving? If he/she doesn’t leave the unpaid internship, then I would expect that there’s value somewhere. I had several unpaid internships in the early 90s when I was getting ready to finish my BA – gave me something to put on my resume! Gave me some insight into how companies worked. Gave me insight into what I wanted to do and what I didn’t.

Unpaid internships teach students things they can’t learn in school — like how to navigate a professional environment. Unpaid internships act as a low-stakes opportunity to figure that out.

There is value there other than money. Most Bachelor grads that I’ve met have NO IDEA how to work in a business environment, what professional behavior is. They are scared/hesitant to talk to people (need to learn to project confidence), and just plain green. If there are no paid jobs available (and they can afford not to work – there’s the rub), then unpaid internships are a great stepping stone.

Critics say unpaid internships are not only exploitative, they perpetuate class inequality and hinder social mobility. Working without pay — often in an expensive city — limits the pool of eligible candidates to those whose parents can afford to subsidize their child’s ambitions. Unpaid internships deny many students the opportunities they need to succeed in their careers.

The stakes of America’s broken internship system are high. As report after report reminds us, this generation of students faces significantly worse job prospects than its predecessors. Without the short-term opportunities to help them learn, grow, connect with mentors and begin climbing the earnings curve, many promising young people with limited means are denied the chance to rise as high as their talent will take them.

The result is not limited to the labor market. The broader implication is privilege multiplied by privilege, a compounding effect prejudiced against students who come from working-class or lower-income circumstances. By shutting out these students from entry-level experiences in certain fields, entire sectors engineer long-term deficits of much-needed talent and perspective. In other words, we’re all paying the price for unpaid internships.

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