NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 5, 2006

A national survey by Vault, a career information Web site, found that 84 percent of college students in April planned to complete at least one internship before graduating, with about half being unpaid. It is often taken for granted that working without pay is the best possible preparation for success, but that may not be the case says Anya Kamenetz in the New York Times.

However, the growth of unpaid internships may be bad for individual careers, considering the risks an intern is likely to face, including:

  • Opportunity costs, including lost wages and living expenses that pose significant challenges for the two-thirds of students who need loans to get through college.
  • Duties that range from the menial to quasi-professional -- unpaid internships are not jobs, only simulations. And fake jobs are not the best preparation for real jobs.
  • No learning that work is a routine of obligation, relieved by external reward, where you contribute value to a larger enterprise.
  • An overidentification with employers, perhaps explaining why young workers are less likely to organize. Less than 5 percent of young people hold a union card, compared with an overall national private-sector union rate of 12.5 percent

Columbia University's Teachers College found that compared to unpaid internships, paid placements are strongest on all measures of internship quality. This shouldn't be too surprising, says Kamenetz -- getting hired and getting paid are what work, in the real world, is all about.

Source: Anya Kamenetz, "Take This Internship and Shove It," New York Times, May 30, 2006

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