We recently reported that a New York judge has determined that a firm had violated federal and New York minimum wage laws by not paying interns for their work.
Radhika Raman, a senior in the American University School of Communication, agrees with this decision and shares further analysis:
Although the prestige of the Career Center initially drew me to AU, I have become increasingly troubled by the University’s emphasis on internships, paid or otherwise.
As I search the Career Center’s online listings at this moment, less than half of the internships explicitly offer some type of pay.
Not only are unpaid internships largely illegal, they also contribute to economic inequality by favoring wealthy students who can afford to pay for housing, food and transportation expenses. A New York federal judge happens to agree.
(The Department of Labor has a test to determine if an unpaid internship is legal; this test only applies to for-profit, private sector entities. That means non-profit and government internships that are unpaid are generally legal, but still highly questionable.)
Many of these unpaid internships also require university credit, which can cost thousands of dollars.
I was compelled to write this piece after seeing the best AU internship contest advertised in The Eagle.
I am dismayed that an independent student publication is making light of the serious inequality that unpaid internships exacerbate.
(Full disclosure: I am currently doing an unpaid internship this summer in D.C. and have done multiple ones in the past.)
I am deeply grateful that my family is able to support me while I complete an unpaid internship this summer, yet I find it deeply unfair that my social class has benefited me in the job market over students who cannot afford to seek out the opportunities that I have received.
Researchers from the Economic Policy Institute estimate that working at an unpaid internship in D.C. for three months costs around $4,000, excluding round-trip airfare. That is roughly a fifth of the income of a family living at the poverty line.
If we are to consider ourselves a student body that is committed to addressing societal inequality, then we must directly confront the issue of unpaid internships.
We must ask: Why does the Career Center advertise unpaid internships on its website? How does it determine the legality of those listings? Why can’t we hold companies that offer illegal unpaid internships accountable for their actions?
The Eagle, AU students and the Career Center can do much better than simply accepting the status quo.
Letter to the Editor: Unpaid internships exacerbate inequality (The Eagle)