Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Inherent inequalities in unpaid internships

<st week, the New York Times published an article that highlighted the blights and legality of the unpaid intern. Due the lack of paid internships, which in today's economy is exacerbated by the increasing scarcity of funds to pay those interns lucky enough to receive compensation, most college students resort to taking unpaid internships.

Whether these internships are a way for businesses to get free labor, a clear violation of the law, is currently under review. This is a crucial issue for lawmakers but the problem that hits closer to home is the widening stratification between privileged and disadvantaged students.

Unpaid internships are often a way for college students to gain real world experiences and credentials while still in school and during breaks. But due to its lack of funding, financially disadvantaged students are unable to take the same opportunities. No matter the qualifications or ambition of such students, they are economically forced to chose a paying job over a great experience that does not pay. These paying jobs are often in the food and service industries, with few opportunities to learn and advance.  A student may learn useful skills but they are often not being challenged intellectually.

It’s discouraging that these unpaid internship may often provide a more valuable experience to a disadvantaged student.

At Carleton, we are lucky to be in a place that makes these unpaid internships possible for some people. Programs like The M. Leith Shackel ’29 Internship Endowment Fund, The Social Justice Internships, and the Multicultural Alumni Network Scholars Program all subsidizes unpaid or low-paying internships and jobs for students. These programs are competitive and require a rigorous application process. These are great opportunities but there are limits to the funding that Carleton is able give out. Students who do not receive additional help are still out of luck.

The inherent inequality within unpaid internships will unfortunately translate into inherent inequality in employment following college. Entry level positions look for relevant experience, which in many cases is gained through unpaid internships.

If students cannot afford to bet on the payoffs of unpaid internships in their employment futures, how can they remain competitive in such a dismal job market?

– The editorial represents the views of The Carletonian editors.

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