I'm an unpaid intern who made a short documentary about unpaid internships (watch it below).
For someone who has worked for free since I was 17 (besides a few short stints as a bus boy), this project hit close to home. Not only did it open my eyes to what constitutes an illegal internship, but it brought to light how touchy the issue is -- the amount of interns and companies that employ interns who turned down the opportunity to talk to me because they were afraid was remarkable. When did unpaid internships become the norm, and why? That's what I wanted to get to the bottom of.
While working on this project, I became more and more frustrated. It's a sad situation -- it's become the status quo for many students to take unpaid work and be expected to feel lucky about getting a foot inside the door and happy that their hard work might lead to a paying job eventually. And the trend isn't restricted to young people -- beyond the struggling undergrads and grads right out of college working for free and living with their parents (ahem), there are Americans well into their 30s taking unpaid jobs.
Economic Policy Institute Vice President Ross Eisenbrey says the most important thing is to inform companies of the Department of Labor's internship rules and predicts that many will change their policies because "it's the right thing." I'm not so sure about that, but I'm more worried about the toll all this has on the self-esteem of college students across the country. As the future of this nation -- and in the face of a terrible job market and ever-increasing college costs -- don't we deserve better?
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