It’s summer and bright-eyed interns are flooding our cities with their fresh Ann Taylor Loft outfits and optimistic life outlooks. This warning perhaps comes too late to save them. Still, it cannot hurt to remind everyone that an unpaid internship is a bad idea. No matter how allegedly promising the company or organization may seem, think twice ― both for your own good and everyone else’s.
1. Unpaid internships reinforce inequality and reduce diversity. Who can afford to work for free? Young people who already have money ― or whose parents have money. An unpaid internship is “a handout that, best intentions aside, accelerates a cycle of privilege and reward,” Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, pointed out in a piece for The New York Times on Tuesday. These roles also serve to reinforce a homogenous workplace where only certain upper-class types get to work.
2. Unpaid internships are less likely to lead to paid job offers. Seventy-two percent of graduates who took paid internships got job offers, according to a survey of class of 2015 graduates released this year by the National Association of Colleges and Employers that was recirculated Wednesday by the Economic Policy Institute. For unpaid internships the percentage falls to 44 percent.
3. Even if you get a job offer, the pay is going to be pretty terrible. If your boss convinced you to work for free, she knows it’s not going to take a huge amount of money to keep you working for longer. The median full-time job offer for people with paid internships at private, for-profit companies was $53,521, according to that NACE survey. The median offer for those with unpaid internships was $34,375. The same differences held for jobs at nonprofits and for state and federal governments.