The Game of Socioeconomic Disparity!

I am a bit passionate about the concept of internships…. as in I hate them.


For one, with a difficult economy in our midst, companies are eliminating paid positions in favor of unpaid internships in a move that I would describe as being an entire truckload of douche.

First, there are systems set that require you to pay to work for someone for free in the name of college credit.

Second, it’s ridiculously unethical to expect ANYONE to work for free, especially in an industry or organization that is not volunteer-based (that makes me wonder what other unethical activities they might be up to).

Third, and most importantly, IT’S ILLEGAL WHEN THEY DO THAT. At least it is in my state. 

That link will take you to the full guidelines an unpaid internship must adhere to, but rather than go over each one, I’ll just touch on the most important point:

If you are generating work that benefits the company, then you should be paid at least minimum wage.

The thing is, even when the intern/worker knows their rights, they tend not to do anything about it in the name of “job references”.

Another thing about internships is that they perpetuate socioeconomic disparity (they give advantage to those who already have an advantage).

Here’s an example: I’ve worked for the last eleven or twelve years, and lived on my own for the last 8ish, including working full time when I was in college. I had a steady (though admittedly god-awful) full time job at the Home Depot, complete with benefits. Once I graduated from the Art Institute of Portland (complete with a metric ton of student debt), I met with our career services, and the conversation went a little something like this:

Career Center Person: “So, you have a full time job?”

Me: “Well, yeah, I have bills to pay. But my schedule is set, so I can work afternoons and evenings.”

Career Center Person: “Would you be willing to leave that for an internship?”

Me: “And inter- wait, really? And internship? Like, I probably don’t get paid for 6 months and I have no guarantee  of a job when at the end of that 6 months?”

Career Center Person: “Yeah…”

Me: “Absolutely not.”

Career Center Person: “It’s going to be hard to place you then.”

Me: “What kind of person says yes to that question?”

I ended up being my own career assistance and found all the positions I got myself… I frequently worked multiple jobs, freelanced and volunteered simultaneously… I even went back to school (online classes through Portland Community College) while working multiple positions (70+ hours a week were common). I’m not complaining, people before me have worked harder, and people after me will work more. But regardless of that, there is one little thing that would have saved me the long work weeks and the physical exhaustion that comes with it.

If I had all my expenses footed by rich parents, that would have been no problem.

I could go on to list my experiences in this, but several others have done it more eloquently, like David Dennis, Clara Ritger, and Chris Hartline, for example. Besides, the last time I tried explaining the concept verbally, I got blank stares. Besides, I’m a graphic designer, so I’d rather show you visually (click on it to make it bigger):


So, how do you deal with the internship situation? First off, never pay money to work for someone. Second, know the labor laws surrounding unpaid and low paid internships in your state, Third, make sure you know what will be expected of you as an intern, and if the position is ANYTHING more than them training you (as in, they expect you to generate content or complete work to the benefit of the company), DON’T be afraid to let them know what the labor laws are. It’s incredibly intimidating, but the culture of internships needs to stop.