Why Unpaid Internships Are Unfair And Favor The Rich

by Stephanie Nunez

In the fall of my junior year of college, I was attending school full-time and working part-time as a bank teller. At the time, many of my peers, along with some professionals around me, emphasized the importance of doing internships before graduating.

They stressed that internships were vital for obtaining experience that would land me a job upon graduation. Not wanting to limit myself in the job market or be stuck at the bank for years to come, I took their advice and started an internship search.

I was offered a great internship for the spring semester in the exact field that interested me. The only problem was that it was unpaid. I felt reluctant to take the internship because I’ve been working since I graduated high school.

My mother, a single parent with two other daughters besides me, could only support my living expenses, but any extras, like my cell phone, transportation and lunch money were up to me.

It was a difficult decision to make and I was stuck between keeping a stable job that paid decently and taking an unpaid position that would potentially benefit my future.

There are thousands of students in the country who go through the same dilemma as I did. The hope for every recent college graduate is to land the job of his or her choice, straight out of school, but many can’t because they lacked the internship experience.

We don’t want to endure post-grad unemployment, which has become so common, or have to go into a different field because of the need for money.

But, taking an unpaid internship is out of the question for many because of the financial strain it would cause. Unfortunately, most entry-level jobs nowadays require some experience within that relative field.

In today’s job market, it is nearly impossible to get a job your field of interest without having several internships already under your belt.

Internships offer students, as well as recent grads, the opportunity to get a taste of the career market with hands-on experience. And, they’re great for networking, as well.

Regrettably, many, if not most, internships are either unpaid or underpaid, giving an unfair advantage to those students who are financially well off. Companies like to justify that their internships are unpaid by offering school credit in turn for work.

Students from low socioeconomic classes often don’t have the luxury of taking unpaid internships because they have multiple responsibilities.

While attending school full-time, many have full-time jobs that they need in order to pay for tuition, families to help support, bills and transportation expenses.

They neither have the time nor the resources to take on internships. When taking an unpaid one, you lose money just by going: money for food and transportation. Many students just can’t afford it.

Internships definitely barrier economically disadvantaged students. Many of the best internship opportunities are located in big cities, where cost of living is likely to be higher than many students' college towns and hometowns.

Wealthier students who live far from urban centers usually rent apartments or dorm rooms at local colleges in the summer in order to intern in cities like New York and Los Angeles. This is exceedingly difficult, bordering on impossible for underprivileged students.

While being able to gain experience in the real world as an undergrad or graduate student offers great opportunities, the likelihood of this happening for less affluent students is slimmer.

The way the internship system works, it keeps those from lower socioeconomic classes from gaining the same experiences that their affluent classmates have access.

This also sets them back professionally when it comes time to settle in their careers, which further limits their already-reduced job markets. This is the reason why something that is meant to give students a chance ends up being unintentionally biased by favoring the rich.

For many college graduates, the experience and the jobs held as students is what makes them stand out in applicant pools. When internships are difficult to swing, it highlights how those who have lower incomes are doomed in the job market from the start.