Are Professional Internships the “The New Slavery”?

Roots, the TV miniseries that changed history.

Roots, the TV miniseries that changed history.

Here’s the question, “Are Long-Term Professional  Unpaid Internships the New Slavery”?

The answer is a resounding NO.  NO! NO! NO!  No serious conversation about the ills of long-term, unpaid, professional internships should have any comparison whatsoever to the Transatlantic Slave Trade from Africa to the Americas and Europe or any other type or instance of slavery in our world history.   No. Long term Unpaid Professional Internships do not involve kidnapping, beating, murder, torture, or rape. So, no.  No.


That said, I wonder about these unpaid professional long-term internships.   College graduates are being offered “jobs” at successful profit-making companies.  But the jobs don’t pay, and they can last a year or more.    For some industries many argue such jobs are “required” to get the experience needed to land a job that actually pays for the work done.  I get that.   I just don’t think it’s right.   Because in the meantime these corporations are getting professional work from educated people, people who invested a lot of time and a lot of money to get said education. Though they may lack work experience, they may already  be programmers, statisticians, researchers, and can write and edit copy and present themselves professionally and interact with clients.   They aren’t fetching coffee for a Summer so that they can learn what happens in the big meetings by being a fly on the wall.  Some of the interns are actually creating the materials distributed at the meetings and even running the meetings.

Even college graduate Andrea was getting paid in The Devil Wears Prada

Even college graduate Andrea was getting paid in The Devil Wears Prada

But, they aren’t getting paid.  And this goes on for more than a six-week Summer where the “worker” can gain college credit.  The “worker” has already graduated from college, thank you very much.

How is this okay?

You might think it’s not a problem if the person is willing to do it.    It’s the old — Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free, right?

Okay, but who, exactly, is willing to do it?   I would guess that it is the children of people with means because they are the only people who can afford to work full-time yet not get paid.    Only people who have somewhere to live rent-free, and if they need a car, it’s mom’s or dad’s car, or mom or dad are paying for it.  And these interns can’t have had children. Because you can’t pay for child care with air.

But the college graduate who graduated with a continent of debt, the college graduate who has no parents or working spouse or family who can take them in, the college graduate with a child,  has no choice but to find a job that pays.   Yet when he or she does opt for the paying job in lieu of the unpaid internship, then those juicy professions that require an unpaid internship experience to be present on the resume are simply unattainable.

Frozen out.

It creates a divide — an economic, career limiting divide.

Additionally, for the (usually) young  professionals who can and do take the unpaid positions, it devalues their work.

The argument that they have to learn and are less valuable as newbies is, pardon the expression,  bullshit.

At any job there is a learning curve.  Any job.  And, unless the new worker single-handedly runs the business into the ground on the first day he or she has provided some contribution, some valuable contribution, from day one.

Does the value increase with experience?  Why yes, yes, it does.

Are the skills he or she brings to the workplace utilized?  Why yes, yes, they are.

In my humble opinion post-graduate internships should have an expiration date that is far shorter than a year.  If someone graduates in June, he or she should be paid for the work they are doing by September.    Really, they should get paid from day one.   Think about it, a company would never be able to get away with hiring professional cleaning crew and not pay them while they learn the ins and outs of the building.


And psychologists and economics should be talking about the effects of the fact that people are “staying at home” to work for no money and not buying homes or paying to rent one, furnishing them, and stimulating the economy.

Something isn’t right.  Don’t call it slavery, though.  Please.  Call it unfair.

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