INTERNS BUILT THE PYRAMIDS

(Title courtesy The Baffler)

Thank God that after all these years I have not lost my ability to be disgusted by what passes for journalism in this country.

CNN ran a positively vomitastic piece on post-graduation internships – unpaid, of course – as a precursor to getting paid entry-level positions in the professional world ("Is an internship the new entry-level job?") I have written at length on this topic before, so allow me to briefly quote myself for those of you have not already heard this rant:

In reality, getting free labor out of gullible (not to mention desperate and terrified of unemployment) undergrads is only part of the rationale behind the Intern Economy and this well-rehearsed bullshit about how much it benefits students. More importantly, this system is a brutally efficient class barrier. An internship is a necessary precursor to getting a job. Having Mom and Dad cough up several thousand dollars to support you while you live in an expensive city (and do some high-class partying, er, "networking", with your fellow children of the Investor Class) is a necessary precursor to interning for free. Hmm.

Yes, ignoring the pesky reality that the bottom 90% of the population will need to, you know, earn a salary to live on after graduation (don't forget that the student loan bills start arriving in six months!) CNN wholeheartedly recommends that young "millenials" not only unquestioningly work for free – sometimes in ten or more different internships over a period of several years – but also that the system is primarily designed for their benefit. Experience! Staying "engaged in the labor market! "Skill sets"! Resumé radiance! Buzzwords! Just play along and someday the world – namely a low-paid, at-will 60 hour per week job at the bottom of the leaching pit – will be your oyster.

The basic arguments against the intern economy are still valid: exploiting a young, idealistic, vulnerable, and scared workforce for gobs of free clerical and administrative labor, efficient barriers to graduates not smart enough to have been born wealthy, and the questionable legality of "internships" that provide no useful skills in addition to being unpaid. You already know this. The question is why CNN seems so uncritical and upbeat about this phenomenon.

First they offer a link to these three nitwits, The Eternal Intern(s), who detail the tribulations of going through a dozen unpaid internships in Paris, LA, and NYC in an effort to land paying jobs in "Film production, film development, PR, Fashion…we've done it all!"

"I want to do what I studied, and I don't want to settle," she said. "I'm still applying for full-time positions, but I don't see that happening anytime soon for me." Like (her), a growing number of college graduates are forced into internships after graduation because of the lack of entry-level jobs. For now, it's important to take those internships, said Phil Gardner, director of Michigan State University's Collegiate Employment Research Institute.

Must be nice to be able to decide that one "doesn't want to settle" for plebeian employment for something as crass as a paycheck. They continue with some dire forecasts for the future:

"Evidence suggests that the internship now replaces the starting job as the place college students actually begin their journey into the workplace," Gardner wrote in a paper he intends to publish this month. Students must make smart choices when selecting an internship, as their decisions will directly influence employment opportunities when they graduate, he said. It's the quality of your internships, not the quantity, that matter to a future employer. But sometimes it's both.

More tales of exploitation and poor career choice:

Claire Brooks, an New York University senior now on her ninth internship, has taken very calculated career moves since her sophomore year in high school. She wants to be an independent producer and said she heard stories about kids dropping out of school and moving to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams.

I can't help but notice that part of the problem is the article's focus solely on the kind of Sex & the City "glamor" jobs that attract mainly sorority girls, but I digress. More optimism and ignorant flaunting of privilege!

"I do believe that the harder you work, the more that will come to you," Gorden said. "I'm confident that the future is bright for me … that I worked hard enough to get somewhere, and I don't want to settle."

Popular theme here. CNN finishes strong with some recommendations that we accept our lot in life and some optimism:

It's important to have a few internships under your belt no matter what the field, said Brian Eberman, CEO of StudentAdvisor.com, a website for college students and their parents. (Their) guide to getting an internship has double the readership of the loans and the scholarship guides.

"We've seen a lot of demand for internships, and it's sort of risen to record numbers," Eberman said. "The number of internships doesn't matter. It's that they're engaged in the process."

…Lauren Berger, the self-proclaimed "Intern Queen," had 15 internships during her time at the University of Central Florida but always kept her resume to one page…Now in her first full-time job as of November, Harrison said it's important to keep building on that experience while unemployed instead of holding off until you get something permanent.

"Sometimes it was a little disheartening that I didn't have that full-time job yet," Harrison said. "But I always thought that it would eventually come along if I was patient and kept working."

I love Happy Endings! Thanks, CNN. It's odd that your take on this repugnant socioeconomic trend is so uncritical, but I guess it's nice that you're…

Wait.

Oh, I forgot. The media, particularly broadcast media and glossy, trendy magazines, are by far the biggest exploiters of unpaid internships on the planet. Gee, if we were cynical we might think they were minimally interested in A) reporting on a legitimate news phenomenon or B) objectively discussing the pros and cons but very interested in normalizing an unethical system they exploit to the hilt. That might be why this article-length advertisement for interning mostly offers tips about how to derive benefit from the system rather than even mildly suggesting that graduates stop and ask "How in the flying hell do you expect me to work for free – IN MANHATTAN – for two years just to get a peon job?"

Heavens no. We wouldn't want you to ask that. Employers might think you have a Bad Attitude!

Be Sociable, Share!

38 Responses to “INTERNS BUILT THE PYRAMIDS”

  1. Nathan Says:

    Thank you for this. My sister is taking an unpaid internship in San Francisco this summer and said "Well, they really prefer not to pay you" when I pressed her about how ridiculous it is that she is spending thousands of dollars to live there to work for free. I could only respond, "I'm pretty sure all businesses would 'prefer not to pay their workers' if it was a choice."

  2. ts46064 Says:

    Jesus Fucking Christ, how does anyone think doing unpaid clerical work unrelated to their major is going to give them work experience? Say what you want about the 40 something yokels who work at Walmart, but atleast they know enough to not work for free.

  3. Nunya Says:

    Jesus fucking Christ Ed!

    I'm now far too old and experienced to have to endure this kind of bullshit but what the hell happened to this country that graduates from top universities had to compete to work for Jacknob, Inc. for free?

    How in the fuck is this not slavery but even worse than that, you refuse to feed or hour your captor?

    I worked at a company that was sufficiengtly pedatory to replace their entire admon staff and half of thier IT folks with inpaid interns that dilligently showed up every day to toil away for the man. The only constant was gthat they lived with their parents and were recent grads of a top 10 university,

    How gthe fuck are the people without these luxuries supposed to compete> And why the fuck should anyone expext another person to show up to work everyday for no recompense?

    This is a brief description of why gthe supremne couth ruled this shit illegal in 1947 and why it should be prosecuted now;

    http://www.inc.com/news/articles/2010/04/what-unpaid-interns-could-cost-you.html

    Internships used to be like dating, I'll give you a few bucks to entertain me and if things go well, this mqyb e a permanent gig. Did I mention that you get paid for every hour that you shoe up? you know, like a regular job???

    And what can be aid for the poor but brilliant sap that can't afford to work for free? Well, he's smarter but still without experience.

    I encourage jailing 1,000 high profile CEO's for kidnapping and extortion. How sporting and fitting for our times wouls that be?

  4. comrade x Says:

    Why the fuck is this happening? Simple… the first instinct of the capitalist is to exploit. When the workforce is just a gaggle of individuals, they have no power, no club to hold over the stinking bosses' heads. They only get that club if they organize.

  5. Jude Says:

    Oh Ed, you fucknut.

    Look, we used to have college to keep the underclass out of our nice jobs and neighborhoods. But then you proles started crashing the gate with bullshit like "equal opportunity" and "loans" and "grants" and "the goddamned GI Bill," so we had to find another way to keep you dirty, dirty "people" away from us.

    Don't be offended by genius when you see it.

    /has another morning martini, prepares to send manufacturing jobs to China

  6. Bette Noir Says:

    Brilliant move, Capitalistas. Can't bring slaves into port on ships anymore, but the Ivy League pipeline is up and working beautifully. Add to that the booming business in "jobs export," student and H-1B visas and Voila! Double-digit unemployment is the new normal.

    There's a reason that they call it the "Free Market" . . .

  7. Jacob Davies Says:

    I love that they stop for a little infomercial right in the middle:

    "Brian Eberman, CEO of StudentAdvisor.com"

    The inclusion of a full URL is one of those raw commercial tropes that I can't stand. Like how every expert commenting on current events on a news show just "happens" to have a new book out! Maybe you'd like to buy it! Here's the cover!

  8. Radical Scientist Says:

    Oh, The Baffler. That magazine singlehandedly saved my pretentious teenage ass from going through an Annoying Libertarian phase. Reading that piece about unpaid internships in high school made me feel good about not taking any (not that I could afford to, anyway). Luckily the sciences don't generally expect this bullshit (yet); they generally stick to just underpaying their student workers, like in the good old days. I'm sure that would change very quickly if lab work ever became trendy, though.

  9. ladiesbane Says:

    Though I agree fully with your piece, I have worked with many bright young graduates, endowed with really stellar starting salaries, who were useless children who cost the company money every day of their time with us. An unpaid intern can be forgiven his tardiness, hungover lack of effort, and Facebook compulsion, but a well-compensated Stanford MBA with the same traits is intolerable.

  10. Hobbes Says:

    I'll conveniently not mention that Jude is a vet. …Oops. ;)

    Being a computer scientist and a mathematician before that, I had never even heard of the concept of unpaid internships outside of "oh that's something rich kids in New York do for Daddy's bank" or something. Every engineer I know thought that the co-op (engineering internship, basically) was the best thing ever – you only paid for one credit at our college, and you got an entry level engineering salary on top of that. AND a foot in the door at your co-op company, most likely. Even in math or CS, I never heard of anyone taking an *unpaid* internship – if you were in school, it wasn't *much* pay, but it was at least beer money.

    And the best part was that at my school at least, all the internships were local. Because Madison, Wisconsin is this shiznit.

    That being said, I landed a (mind-blowingly dull, soul-sucking) $60k a year job in spring 2009, during a recession, straight out of my Masters program, AND with no full-time work experience and no internships or co-ops. They're not fucking requisite, you just have to choose your major appropriately.

  11. Da Moose Says:

    I was watching CNN the other day in which one of their anchors simply shook his car keys in front of the camera for a half hour. It was a fascinating piece of jornalism. I was spell-bound…can't wait for the next installment.

  12. bb in GA Says:

    Any guns or knives involved? Ropes, whips, chains? Abductions, Extortions?

    No, I didn't think so.

    If you got an urge to work for free, there are many fine benevolent organizations both secular and religious.

    We need your help.

    //bb

  13. displaced Capitalist Says:

    It's like how career services offices at college campuses are always urging recent grads to "network".

    I'm sorry but unless your Daddy is best friends with the Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs of Yemen, you're not getting that internship at the ambassador's office.

  14. Monkey Business Says:

    I did a pair of internships as an undergrad. I was paid exceptionally well (compared to standard student summer job fare) at both, and gained a lot of valuable experience.

    That being said, if either of those companies had made a condition of my employment be that I work for free, I would have told them to go fuck themselves and gone back to delivering sandwiches or slinging coffee. Experience is great, but a paycheck is better.

  15. Andy Brown Says:

    The old Soviet joke was, "we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us." So Post-prosperity capitalism is going to be, "we work and they might pay us something later, maybe."

  16. ClassicalMusicIsBoring Says:

    "efficient barriers to graduates not smart enough to have been born wealthy"

    Yeah, well, that's the deal, innit? What the fuck was I thinking?

  17. mothra Says:

    I had an internship right after I graduated from college. It was paid–barely. I made $400 a month. Rent took half that. But the reason I took the internship was so I could get my Actors' Equity card for stage management. Got my card, then went back home and worked in theatre–not for free and not for small pay. 'Twas the reason I got my union card, of course…so I wouldn't be exploited once in the work force.

  18. Southern Beale Says:

    Well, I'm one of those lucky duckies who graduated from college in 1983 in the height of the LAST Republican Recession. Jobs for new college grads were non-existent then. While a lot of my friends went on to law school or to get MBAs, I did the intern route. But my internships were paid. In my field (at the time that was environmental science) I could move to Bumfug, PA and work at an environmental ed center and get a modest stipend as well as room and board. It was better than nothing and it did give me some resume fodder and a few good references.

    But that's not what we have nowadays, is it? What we have nowadays is not just an intern economy, we have devalued workers. Now in my new career (freelance writer) I see how writers are not paid what they are worth, in fact, if they are paid at all it's sweat shop wages (I wrote about it here.)

    But it's not just writers. We've devalued everyone. No one wants to pay people what they are worth. They don't want to pay what anything is worth. A cheap-assed hamburger from McDonald's sounds great until you learn about the migrant laborers who pick the tomatoes and the lettuce, who live in crowded bunkhouses and earn $40 a day. And we're told if we want to pay people what they are worth, a living wage, that same hamburger would cost $30.

    True? I dunno. I'm not an economics whiz-bang. I do know that culturally devaluing people like teachers and writers and agricultural workers inevitably comes home to roost. Now we've got college students told to give it away for free and pay off those student loans someday, somehow. It's been a slow, steady erosion in the 30 years I've been an adult. and I'd love to know how it happened and when it's going to stop.

    I'm not sure it will stop. We keep devaluing so many things in America today that pretty soon there won't be anything of value in this nation at all.

    Gives me a big sad, I gotta tell you.

  19. surfoot Says:

    I see this as little people whining at being given an opportunity to prove your abilities to an elite corporations; I myself worked three years in an unpaid internship before my Grandfather made me Vice-President. If your father was a coalminer and you want a position within an elite company, you my need some grooming to assimilate to our standards.

  20. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    Not only do unpaid internships suck for the unpaid interns, but they drive down demand for paid workers doing those same jobs, and thus depress wages in the entire administrative/clerical job market.

  21. bpasinko Says:

    I've been aggressively searching for a simple, modest entry-level job in the non-profit sector. Most of what I've found is just administrative assistant positions and I've hardly heard back from anyone. When I see an internship that looks appealing even that's usually just for college students.

    2 Years out of college, with plenty of experience working and volunteering with various non-profits and college Juniors have it better than me.

  22. Mark P Says:

    Well, people, try to choose a profession that actually has jobs available and pays something. Idiots. Oh, and CNN, too.

  23. HoosierPoli Says:

    These articles get me all depressed to the point where I forget I actually have a job. TAing doesn't pay well but at the moment I am VERY overpaid for what I actually do. Guess I should enjoy that feeling.

  24. drive-by Says:

    Judging by the names of the interns profiled in the portion of the article you quote, this is also an excellent way to keep women

  25. drive-by Says:

    WOW. My comment was quite a bit longer as written, but I couldn't possibly improve upon the truncated version by reposting it. (That particular sentence ended "out of the paid workforce," for what it's worth…)

  26. BBH Says:

    My daughter couldn't find a job when she finished college and finally settled for trying internships. (Yes, making ends meet was a major struggle.) She worked full time hours in three internships for no pay and, in the end, none of the interns were ever offered paid work. She said that she wouldn't ever work again for no pay and now she's back in school. Is this a great country or what? And we've even got CNN pushing slavery now. I'm thinking of maybe joining the fundies and hoping to get raptured up soon…

  27. 16shellsfroma30aught6 Says:

    In fact, the pyramids were built by paid workers. Today the pharoahs would definitely be trolling the university career fairs.

  28. Wells Says:

    I'm in Computer Science, so my profession doesn't have unpaid internships as far as I can recall.

    But basically, The unpaid internship is either a method that certain industries use to weed out those who are not connected or don't have money (Especially New York, Los Angelous, and San Francisco based trendy media or PR firms or fashion firms).
    Or a method to get free labor.

    If the former, the 'intern' is of course supported by their parents and will be issued a job eventually regardless of their skill level, or the superior skill levels of the unconnected.

    If the latter they will eventually be dumped, and looked upon as cheap and easy by the rest of the job market.

  29. Wells Says:

    And Pyramids were built by taxpayers. They didn't have money back then, or paperwork, but they did have taxes, and work.

  30. ts46064 Says:

    You know the communist anti business trade unions have something similar to unpaid internships, apprenticeships. Unlike unpaid internships though, apprenticeships are both paid and relevant to the specific course of training.

  31. Aslan Maskhadov Says:

    "Oh, I forgot. The media, particularly broadcast media and glossy, trendy magazines, are by far the biggest exploiters of unpaid internships on the planet."

    THANK GOD FOR OUR INDEPENDENT, FREE PRESS!!!!!

    Seriously though, it looks like in the case of society at large, bullshit can never reach some kind of critical mass. It can perpetuate itself indefinitely.

  32. Aslan Maskhadov Says:

    The slaves of Egypt had it better than interns- slaveowners at least must maintain their slaves and keep them in good health to work. So a healthy slave doesn't worry about being laid off and starving to death.

  33. Kulkuri Says:

    Who says being rich and going to an Ivy League school will make you smart?? The ones on the lower end of the scale know when the only thing you have to barter is your labor, you don't give it away!!

  34. Suzie Says:

    Back in the early 90s, which may as well be the dark ages, I was a journalism major. As mentioned above, there always have been unpaid internships in that field. It varied. I had two internships and they were both paid. Sure, they didn't pay much, but I was compensated, AND offered a job at the end. It sounds like those are a dying breed, like newspapers in general. Sigh.

    It sounds to me that unpaid internships are a shifty way of getting around actually giving something back to someone.

    Now I've moved to more of an IT related field, but even there, salaries are slashed. I had to take a lower salary for the same job, with the "oh but we have good benefits and you get to do X for free" Yeah, whatever. I'd prefer the cash.

  35. Fifth Dentist Says:

    Well, sonny, back in my day I had two paying jobs in my field while still in college. With offers from several different companies as soon as I graduated.
    Of course this was back when the evil pervert Bill Clinton was in office.
    Let the Reptilicans win another couple of elections and can the "Compassionate Slavery Act of 2015" be far behind?

  36. Fifth Dentist Says:

    Oh, and I was an English Lit major, motto: "Slightly less useless than philosophy"* and wasn't about to go into teaching and was not fabulously connected.

    * I did, however, have a philosophy minor.

  37. Paul W. Luscher Says:

    Well, all I can say to the victimized grads is "Welcome to the New Gilded Age. If you voted Republican, then you got what you deserve."

  38. Rodney Says:

    I agree with you 100%. Out of college I began working many non-paid internships, many of which would have provided me with great experience in my desired field. I was ghostwriting an Oscar nominee's autobiography, providing videography and editing to high-profile non-profit organizations, etc. The kicker was, I was not gaining any new knowledge whatsoever, and working these gave the appearance that my work experience made me over-qualified for most entry-level positions. It got to the point that I had to downplay my resume with statements like, "Oh, I can just really spice up a resume. I'm not THAT experienced," before I could land my first full-time job.

Leave a Reply