Interns are worth what they’re (not) paid, argues legal blogger Josh Blackman in response to a New York Times story which blames colleges for “failing to inform young people of their rights or protect them from the miserly calculus of employers.”
There’s no protection from the law of supply and demand, writes Blackman.
College students with no experience are not particularly valuable. Usually, they are a liability, and require extensive training and supervision to make sure they don’t screw things up too bad. Were interns to demand a salary at minimum wage, employers would be better to not hire them in the first place.
Unpaid interns can’t afford apartments in expensive cities, the Times complains, quoting a Colgate student who crashed on “more than 20 floors and couches” for a summer. “It definitely hurt my confidence,” Will Batson told the Times.
Few summer jobs pay enough for a student to afford rent in New York City, notes Blackman.
What’s unfair, he writes, is charging students’ tuition for a summer spent working off campus. Thanks to labor law, students can’t qualify for an unpaid internship if they’re not earning credit and they can’t earn credit if they don’t pay up. Blackman’s college charged out-of-state tuition but “provided no guidance, no assessment, and simply made my boss fill out some annoying useless forms.” Still, it was worth it.
An unpaid internship is an investment in your future. When two college students graduate – with the exact same academic credentials, but one spent his summer interning at an industry leader, and the other worked as a lifeguard – which one do you think is more likely to get the job?
Paid work is hard to find these days, even for college graduates. Unemployment is 25.7 percent for teenagers and 15.7 percent for those 20 to 24 years old, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Recent college grads are despairing of landing anything above the fast-food counter, where they face stiff competition from millions of recent immigrants,” writes Robert Knight, a senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union, in the Washington Times.
If college graduates aren’t worth more to employers than recent immigrants . . . Well, let’s assume the unemployed grads earned low-value degrees from undemanding colleges — and never let themselves by exploited by a miserly employer.