Leigh Bauer and Britini Dunn

Many internships are unpaid, leading to positions being filled by wealthier students that do not have tuition and bills to pay. While internships can offer valuable experience, this experience is limited to few. Companies often hire students for unpaid work and have been criticized for exploitation. Internships can be seen as ways for companies to get away with unpaid labor, which is why the Department of Labor tried to clamp down on unpaid internships in 2010 to no avail. Having an unpaid internship is a luxury many cannot afford, yet it is still accepted and encouraged in society as an “experience.” The National Association of Colleges and Employers Center for Career Development reports that employers value unpaid internship experience and often prioritize students that have had those opportunities.

One organization looking to increase the quantity of paid internship programs nationwide is Pay Our Interns. The organization advocates for “equitable access to professional career paths through the implementation of paid internships countrywide.” According to the About Us page on their website, Pay Our Interns’ goal is to develop pathways for advancement for young professionals, create a more equitable workforce, and increase diverse leadership teams in companies nationwide. So far, the organization has worked with the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and several Senate offices to create their own paid internship programs. Most recently, the organization partnered with the brand Next of Us to create a $50,000 fund that unpaid college interns can apply to for financial assistance while pursuing unpaid or underpaid internships. Currently, the organization is working with the State of California to pass AB 2437, a bill that would fund relocation stipends for California Capital interns and service stipends for interns at district offices.

So, who’s to blame for the lack of paid internship programs in America? Are unpaid internships a means of exploitation? Or, do they allow for more internship opportunities to be available? Do unpaid internships perpetuate income inequality in the United States? How can the system change so paid internships are the norm? 

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