The New Slavery
I read a newspaper article in the New York Times this week about internships.
Don't ask me to link to it. This is a blog! Let's just say I read something and leave it at that.
Well, I've not only read it, but I'm watching it being played out in the lives of the young people I know. Many businesses, nonprofits, museums, galleries, and especially media outlets, are taking advantage of a free pool of motivated labor: college graduates who can't find jobs.
Oh, the internship! What a great way to get experience you can put on your resume! How can it have a downside to work at the Smithsonian Institute as an intern?
Here's the downside. It's uncompensated labor. The job prospects are so dim for educated people that they have become slaves. They are working long hours, stressful jobs ... for free. Not even living expenses. Many, many kinds of businesses are taking advantage of "internships." Why buy the cow?
What's worse is that most of these internships do not lead to compensated employment ... at least not in the intern's chosen field of endeavor. Basically kids are coming out of college, working for free, and then racking up more educational debt in graduate school. Or they're working as interns and then finding a job somewhere else. Like Home Depot.
I had an internship at a newspaper in Baltimore when I was an undergraduate. I was paid minimum wage. On Friday nights I had to take down the scores and highlight notes for about 30 high school football games. Over the telephone. And all the gods forbid I misspell a name! The next day, Saturday afternoon, would be the racetrack results. These also had to be keyed in by hand.
I published one single story in the newspaper during the eight months I worked there. Then I was told that, as a female, I lacked the qualifications to be a sportswriter. So I quit.
If not for that small paycheck I got for my hours, I would have felt royally played.
The saddest part of this is the fact that interns, once their slavery ends, may never be as happy again in a paying gig. Our economy is so sour that they might never find real work in their professions. I never worked a single day as a journalist after my internship ended, and quite honestly I think I would have been a good sportswriter.
It's easy to say that there ought to be a law. But truthfully, the reality is that colleges are graduating too many people, especially in the creative fields. I don't have an answer for what to do here. I just think it's a shame that my friend's daughter is working at the Smithsonian for free ... for a year ... and then she'll be ... out of a slavery. To make room for another slave.
How long can this last?