Unpaid internships perpetuate inequality

We’re approaching the month of March, which means most internship deadlines are coming up. Whether you’re a freshman or a senior about to graduate, the prospect of getting an internship is ever present. However, as college students, getting hired can be a laborious process, and sometimes we have to take what we can get— even if it’s an unpaid internship.

Because of the fierce competition of post-grad job searching, students are expected to have an internship, maybe two, underneath their belt. But what happens when all you come across are opportunities that don’t pay you? Having to choose between gaining experience and making money is not a decision students should be balancing in a society as advanced as ours.

Of course, we recognize that some companies, like startups and small businesses, don’t have the resources to pay their interns. In the case of those companies, their workload may be more forgiving. However, most companies that seek interns are well established, and many of them choose not to pay their interns even though they can.

We also know that for some fields, an internship is not only important but necessary, whether it’s paid or not. Internships are stepping stones to the professional world, but that doesn’t mean your time and labor should go uncompensated. Refusing to pay interns is problematic for many reasons.

Simply put, there are students who just don’t have the luxury of being able to work for free. Low-income students, first-generation, LGBTQ+ or homeless students often don’t have the privilege of considering unpaid options. Students who don’t have financial or family support shouldn’t be expected to give up hours of their time without compensation, especially if the internship is in an expensive city or a long commute from home. Therefore, unpaid internships feed into a system that supports inequality. If unpaid internships are mostly taken by those who can afford not to get paid, then it disadvantages working-class students who have less privilege.

Unpaid labor should not exist in 2020 but unfortunately, it still does. As of 2016, about half of the 1.5 million internships in the United States are unpaid, and unpaid internships are quite common around the world, too. Though unpaid internships can bring networking opportunities and experience, they cost students a lot of money. For example, if you get a really cool unpaid internship that was in another state, you would have to come up with airfares, housing and day-to-day costs. There is also the notion that you could get hired full-time as a result of your unpaid internship, but that is not usually the case. Most unpaid internships do not lead to full-time jobs.

Still, millennials and Gen-Z’s are fighters, and unlike previous generations, we don’t keep silent on issues that truly bother us. This has forced companies and institutions to reckon with this reality and try to support underprivileged students should they find themselves with unpaid internships. It’s been reported that more and more companies are now paying their interns.

UM has some programs to aid students who might come across unpaid internships and financial barriers. The Toppel Career Center has set up its Toppel Internship Fund that offers $500 to $3000 to help students pay for costs associated with both paid and unpaid internships. We hope that other universities and larger institutions implement funds like these that can support first-generation, low-income and other students who need help.

Society has conditioned us to think that landing a paid internship is a great accomplishment, and it is, but it should be a given that we’re paid for our work.

Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.

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