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Opinion: The End of the Unpaid Internship

Working an internship during college is considered the norm, and almost a requirement for a job. Students usually do not do one, but multiple internships. This huge demand for a spot puts companies in a position to exploit the system. This comes in the form of unpaid internships.

There numerous issues with unpaid internships and getting rid of them is a necessity. Companies are able to get free work with the justification that students receive experience. Recently though, Fox Searchlight faced a lawsuit for having unpaid interns who were deemed to be actual employees. Soon after, Condé Nast cancelled its unpaid internship program.

An intern typically does all the grunt work. Regardless of whether an intern learns from this grunt work, they still deserve pay. If a company is not paying their interns, it means one of two things. It could be that the work they’re giving them is nothing valuable, like running to get coffee. On the other hand, it could be they are exploiting them, and getting valuable work for free. That would be a violation of minimum wage laws. If the work is just running for coffee, then they’re wasting the intern’s time with work not deserving pay.

Additionally minimum wage pay means much more to an employee than a company. Generally it constitutes a small portion of a company’s overall profit, but significantly impacts a college student's bank account. It’s selfish of companies to rob students of a huge benefit for a minimal sacrifice on their end.

This issue is exasperated by other financial problems, such as the cost to travel to an internship, and creates an unfair socio-economic system. It allows only wealthy students to have internships, since for the majority of people, making money over the summer is not optional. Having huge savings at a young age or parents who are willing to be financially supportive, shouldn’t be a requirement for an internship.

Money aside, unpaid interns often confront basic human rights violations. Because they are not employed, the interns are not protected from sexual harassment or discrimination, among other issues. Courts recently dismissed an unpaid intern who filed for sexual harassment on the basis that because she wasn’t a paid employee she couldn’t sue.

Unpaid internships also affect actual employees. Making the unpaid interns create the Excel sheets means there’s no need for the employee who would have been in charge of that. This has economy-wide implications because it contributes to unemployment. Additionally, because neither the intern nor the unemployed worker are generating income, they aren’t able to spend and contribute to the economy.

It’s astounding that this loophole in minimum wage laws has endured. The survival of the unpaid internship is doubtful though. It’s not a question of whether it will, or should, be banned, but how it will be banned. We’ll have to wait and see if companies follow in the footsteps of Condé Nast, or if the government intervenes to get rid of unpaid internships. No matter how it happens, it’ll be a much needed change.

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