Are unpaid internships unethical?


Photo credit: Helen Suh

As a junior, I hear the word all the time: internship. It seems most students who are graduating the following year are looking for one.

Many say that an internship during the summer prior to graduating is crucial to landing a good job after college. And I would agree with that. Internships give experience in an industry without the pressure of immediately becoming a full-time employee.

The problem I have with internships is that some are unpaid.

I believe unpaid internships are non-inclusive, greedy and above all unethical.

Offering an unpaid internship shows greed at the management level of a company. Whoever decides that the company will hire a summer intern and he or she will be unpaid, has little respect for hardworking students.

A company that is reputable enough to hire an intern should generate enough profit to pay a summer intern, right?

In my opinion, if a company truly doesn’t have the funds to pay the salary of a summer intern then maybe it isn’t a company anyone should be seeking employment from anyways.

And if a company doesn’t have the funds then they shouldn’t offer an internship in the first place. To me, that sounds like exploiting student labor because of lack of sufficient funds to hire a real employee.

I think the main problem with unpaid internships is that they are non-inclusive.

Not all students can afford to work for an entire summer or even one week without pay.

My knowledge from my personal internship search has led me to conclude that most internships are offered in major cities. Major cities are more expensive on all fronts; rent, food and entertainment are all more expensive.

This means students from lower income families will not be able to commute or move to the city because they likely won’t be able to afford it since they will have no income.

According to a study done by The Washington Post, approximately 50 percent of internships in the year 2012 were unpaid in the United States.

Offering an unpaid internship is not only greedy, but it eliminates many students from low-income families from applying to 50 percent of internships.

This is not only non-inclusive to these equally qualified candidates, it accentuates the inability to escape social stratification. Essentially, it keeps lower class people lower class and gives the opportunities to the students from upper and middle class families that can afford to support their child during an unpaid internship.

Internships can propel a student through the professional world, and not being inclusive of lower class students is wrong and denies them a chance at the American dream.

Another issue with unpaid internships is that they demean the value of the student.

I feel that my time and expertise after three years of college is worth more than zero compensation. And a company that thinks my value is worth nothing is not a company where I would feel good about myself.

Many would argue that unpaid internships are ethical because they allow the student to gain expertise, knowledge and connections in an industry. All these things are valuable, but it is still out of the reach of students from lower class families.

Since connections and experience are value added, I believe internships that pay minimum wage are acceptable and ethical. In addition, an internship that gives college credits as compensation is also acceptable because it can go toward a degree. It’s almost like taking a class.

Ultimately there is no reason for an internship to go unpaid. Students deserve fair compensation for their work. Not fairly compensating is unethical.

Labeling a job as an internship is simply a way for a company to save money. Truthfully, it is glorified volunteer work that looks good on a resume.

For some, an unpaid internship is worth it. The value of the experience from a distinguished company is sometimes too much of a good opportunity to pass up.

For me, I don’t think the time and cost are worth a summer of free labor.

Alex Horne can be reached at [email protected] or @theorion_news on Twitter.