opinion   |   column

Unpaid internships are classist



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For many college students, now is the time at which internships and job experience is crucial to building a decent resume. Unfortunately, with the majority of internships being unpaid, they are virtually unattainable for adolescents who rely on income for food, shelter, transportation — the list goes on. 

While internships do provide experience that not only can pad a resume but genuinely foster growth of professional skills, not everyone can take “experience” as payment without suffering greatly. Many argue the experience qualifying you as a better job candidate is worth the free labor, but for others, it is not even an option. 

Unpaid internships favor middle- to upper-class people who can afford to take time that could be spent at a paid job and use it to work for free. While it might be possible for some, for the rest of young people, there is not enough time to split between a paid job — or two — and class, and an unpaid internship. 

Internships typically require 10-15 hours a week. However, most internship opportunities have typical business hours that take up most of the day, for example a 9-to-5, and for many that just does not coincide with even the minimum of course hours. This is why so many financially independent students take daytime classes, so they are able to work evening hours at a paid job in order to make rent, buy groceries and pay bills. 

On top of class schedules potentially ruling out an internship, we need to shift focus back to the biggest deterrent in accepting unpaid internships — the dough. 

Everyone seems to have an opinion on how to not be poor except for people who have never really been poor. As someone who has a past of financial turmoil and depravity, it was impossible for me to accept an unpaid internship. I have been financially independent since I was 16, paying for everything from phone bills, to car insurance, to gas. If it cost money, I was buying it. 

The worst part is, I was still very fortunate compared to some of my peers.

I financially could not afford to trade hours at my paid service job to spend at an unpaid internship — no matter how good the reference would look on my resume. 

People who are privileged enough to have had unpaid internships often tell people to “save your money” but neglect to realize that saving money when you are living paycheck to paycheck is an oxymoron. The two do not coexist. 

This is the reality for the majority of college students, and, more importantly, people who will not have a college degree to try and enter a salaried position. 

At the base level, any form of unpaid labor is unjust and perpetuates the wealth inequality we see more and more of each day. Unpaid labor is exploitation of people, and lack of compensation for time spent on a job is perhaps one of the most insulting, disrespectful actions that a company can take — especially under the guise of helping build a better resume. 

For those financially independent people who make it work with a paid job, unpaid internship and full class load, I tip my hat to you. I do not know how you make it work, but that kind of dedication is admirable to say the least. 

For the people giving unwelcome advice about how unpaid internships are worth it and are available to everyone — take a step back and realize that not everyone has family helping financially and not everyone has the kind of luxury to pick between paid and unpaid work. 

I have yet to meet a bill collector who takes “valuable field experience” as a valid form of payment. 

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