Unpaid Internships? Excuse Me, But I Don’t See the Problem

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Apr 21, 2016
This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.

Editor’s Note: As I wind up my time as Editor of TLNT — yes, I’m going to be leaving in a week! — I wanted to share some of my favorite posts from over the years. Here’s one from February 2012. 

If you have managed people and been on the job very long, you probably know that there are three kinds of workplace issues:

  • Big and important ones;
  • Small and annoying ones;
  • Loud and overblown ones.

I’ve dealt with all three, but for my money, it’s the loud and overblown issues that take up the most time and generate the greatest amount of heartburn.

And it’s the ongoing flap over unpaid internships, one of the loudest and most overblown issues of all, that always seems to make me reach for the Maalox.

Are unpaid interns impacting the job market?

Earlier this month, an unpaid intern sued fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar and the Hearst Corporation claiming, according to The New York Times Media Decoder blog, that they violated “federal and state wage and hour laws by not paying her even though she often worked there full time.” It’s unusual for interns to sue, and I had a little about it here at TLNT in the Weekly Wrap, but the story quickly came and went and that was that.

But now, online magazine Slate has jumped into the fray with a story titled, Get Your Own Damn Coffee — Most Unpaid Internships Are Illegal, Why Don’t More Interns Protest?  Their point, besides the fact that they believe that “there is widespread agreement that unpaid interns are being exploited,” is that “the real victims of internships are the majority of Americans who can’t afford to work for free and are thus squeezed out of employment opportunities.”

Yes, according to Slate, unpaid internships are depressing the fragile, post recession job market.

Here’s the crux of the argument, according to the article:

This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.