Woes of a Budding Intern

“Those snot rags are lucky we take them in” – employers, probably

by Katelynn Browne
Features and Lists Editor

Back in December, I began the extremely taxing process of writing a resume, and started my search for a summer internship. Unbeknownst to me, I set my hopes too high because I really hoped that I would land a paid internship – knowing to a degree that it was unlikely, but I didn’t realize how difficult it is to even get an internship, period.
As someone who has been working a paid job since the age of 15, I had learned from an early age that I deserve to get paid for the work that I do.

I’ve lifeguarded at minimum wage for about four years, and I’ve worked as a swim instructor at a few dollars above minimum wage for two years now, and despite my age, (and my complaints about my job), I was treated as someone worth paying for my skills – even if the skills were things like being able to stare at water for hours on end, or never mastering putting on rubber gloves quickly enough to tend to a child’s skinned knee, the child’s mother watching me with ridicule and anger at my incompetence.
Now as I enter the “Real World,” it has become evident to me that employers do not value the work that young people provide them. If employers have the opportunity to legally not pay their workers, they often will opt not to pay them, because, you know, capitalism. They pride themselves by saying they offer us “valuable experience” and offer us credit. However, just because experience is valuable, it does not mean that good work from your interns should go unpaid. They are giving up their time and their means to make money in order to work for you and better your company.
Most of students are in debt, and the summer especially is the time that students make most of their money. I usually make a couple thousand dollars working over the summer, which helps me pay back my loans. Luckily, my unpaid internship is part-time. Unluckily for me, it’s in Queens, and I’ll be driving probably a little over an hour each way (total driving time looking something like two and a half hours per day I go into the office.) And don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to work where I’m working, but I’m lucky enough to be able to afford to work an unpaid internship. My parents are able to cover my expenses.
However, there are people who are not as lucky as I am. In order to get a job these days, you need to go to college, an incredible commitment of time, as well as money – money which a lot of people do not have. Then while you’re in college, you have to get an internship, the majority of which are unpaid, and in the case of the rare paid internship, you are unlikely to have the skills, required year or previous experience to earn that internship. Most paid internships require that you have previous interning experience in order to work for that company. Any young adult in this country knows this.
The problem is that not everyone can afford to work a summer, or any semester for that matter, without pay, which can later affect certain students’ ability to find good jobs after they graduate because they will not have any “relevant experience.” This demonstrates that unpaid internships are inherently classist, which provides an unfair playing field for poorer students. In addition, it further perpetuates the debt issue for all students with loans. How on earth are you supposed to start paying back your loans, when you have no choice but to work without pay?
I can’t imagine any of these employers would want to work a forty-hour work week every week for three months for free. I can’t imagine they’d want to commute to Queens 2-3 times a week for a job that does not pay, then work 20-25+ hours at a job that pays minimum wage. Employers need to empathize with their interns, rather than think them to be whiny, entitled little assholes who are lucky they even took us on in the first place.
This country needs to continue to work on its labor laws. Many states, such as New York, are heading in the right direction by raising minimum wage to a living wage: $15/hr. Now, I believe that it is important for legislators to work on passing laws that protect young adult workers – by paying interns a wage. Please stop exploiting the youth.

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