The price of free

Sep 18, 2012 @ 8:56 am | By TheFeministGriote | 1 Comment

Since having arrived in the knee deep section of the election, all we’ve been hearing about is this amorphous concept called “American Exceptionalism,” which I recently wrote about. You have the Democrats accusing the GOP of betting against America, and then you have the GOP stating that the Democrats, more specifically President Obama, is making “excuses for America” and “leading from behind;” two concepts the GOP has failed, in my eyes, to substantiate. But with all this talk about American Exceptionalism I will say this, there is nothing exceptional about a country in which 49 million people live in poverty!

This 49 million people represents 16% of the population which translates into 1 out of 6 people.  These figures come from the Census. To get even more specific 35.2 million young adults ages 18-26 are living near or below the poverty line. It is also important to note that 60% of these young people were enrolled in college or earned their post-secondary degree. Talking about debt has come into the national forefront in this election. The GOP had a debt clock at their convention; never mind the fact that their “trickle down” economics, a Republican President, and two wars that were commissioned by the Republican President added tremendously to that debt. With that said, in talking about debt we also can’t forget about student loans.

So many of us sacrifice so much to get an education, no matter the level. But when it comes to the business of internships and an expectation of free labor, I rarely ever hear it being talked about, and I definitely don’t hear it talked about on a national level. I read an article on Diana Wang, a 27 year-old woman who is suing Harper’s Bazaar for not paying her during her internship. Wang, in the article written by Kayleen Schaefer titled “The Norma Rae of Fashion,”  the job descriptions and duties of Wang, didn’t read like an internship. It read like a job! She was working 40 hours a week and managing other interns. That is not an internship nor is it encouraging a person to learn the business of fashion. It sounded purely like a company trying to get by on free labor; which happens often in almost every sphere.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor it states:

If an employer uses interns as substitutes for regular workers or to augment its existing workforce during specific time periods, these interns should be paid at least the minimum wage and overtime compensation for hours worked over forty in a workweek.  If the employer would have hired additional employees or required existing staff to work additional hours had the interns not performed the work, then the interns will be viewed as employees and entitled compensation under the FLSA.  Conversely, if the employer is providing job shadowing opportunities that allow an intern to learn certain functions under the close and constant supervision of regular employees, but the intern performs no or minimal work, the activity is more likely to be viewed as a bona fide education experience.  On the other hand, if the intern receives the same level of supervision as the employer’s regular workforce, this would suggest an employment relationship, rather than training.
 I am in a Masters degree program in Social Work. In my discipline an internship is considered a course, which means I pay for it. Most internships are unpaid, which means I am paying to work for free, follow the logic? I will say  the current internship that I am at now is great. It falls in line with what I want to do,  and I am learning a host of skills that will make me marketable. My internship does reimburse mileage, which a good thing but I would sure love to be paid every two weeks, even if it was minimum wage. I really feel the notion of free work needs to be done away with. In this economy, no one can afford to work for free or be required to give their absolute best in hopes that some magical door will be opened.
I do believe that the right internships and making the right connections at your internships has the potential of setting your life on an awesome trajectory, but in the meantime you have to eat, get to your internship, and for many of us look the part, Those things aren’t free!



Categories: Mind Over Chatter

One Response to “ The price of free ”

  1. Honestly I don’t have a problem with unpaid internships because it allows the student to obtain valuable experience that will allow them, hopefully, to get a full-time paid job after graduation. However I think when an employer abuses its interns by basically making them long or short term unpaid full time employees than there is a problem. Maybe there should be a clear legally binding definition of internships that all employers must abide by to stop certain companies/organizations from abusing the system. But I don’t think that all interns should be paid just because they are providing a service to the organization, especially if the internship is a requirement for your degree. If you’re lucky enough to find a paid internship great. But if it’s unpaid yet you are getting valuable experience and making connections I don’t see the big deal about being unpaid. And this is coming from someone who has had both paid and unpaid positions and supervised interns.

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