Unpaid internships: Good for the economy, bad for low-wage workers, and a wonderful gift to students at a terrible price
Are the vast majority of unpaid internships illegal? A raft of lawsuits brought by unpaid interns claiming minimum-wage violations against big media companies this year might answer the question. In the first settlement among these cases, Charlie Rose's production company agreed to pay back wages of $110-per-week to nearly 200 former interns.
The ethics of unpaid internships are as murky as the economics are clear. Hundreds of thousands of young (and not so young) Americans are willing to work for nothing in exchange for the experience to take part in the daily thrum of a company. And I trust you'll conceal your shock to learn that some businesses will not refuse young workers at the price of $0.00 per hour.
We might conclude our analysis right there -- indeed, some people do -- but the morality of unpaid internships is not as pat as that evergreen excuse, "... but we can pay you with experience!" There is a law in this country that says that internships must resemble an education and that interns cannot work in the place of paid employees, nor be of "immediate benefit" to an employer. If you have ever held an unpaid internship, you know just how routinely flouted that rule is.