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Labor Department Wrongly Cracks Down on Unpaid Internships

One of the groups that have been hit the hardest by the current economic recession is young people. While the national unemployment rate remains at 9.7 percent, the unemployment rate among 16-to-24 year olds remains steady at 18.8 percent. In fact, 26.4 percent of America’s unemployed are young workers. For African Americans youths, some estimate that almost half are unable to find employment. According to Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.),

African-American youth unemployment rates are now estimated to be as high as 42 percent. So we need targeted assistance to help put our young people to work and to teach them an array of valuable jobs skills that they can use throughout life.

Recent college graduates are facing the toughest job market since World War II. Many new college graduates are having trouble finding employment since employers often prefer to hire workers with experience in their chosen field. Unfortunately, some officials in Obama’s administration may make youth employment’s outlook significantly worse. An increasing number of officials are claiming that unpaid internships violate the Fair Labor Standards Act. As a result, they want to make it illegal to hire an unpaid intern. In fact, officials in states such as Oregon, California and New York have begun fining employers that do not pay their interns. According to the New York Times, federal Labor Department top law enforcement official M. Patricia Smith and the wage and hour division are investigating firms nationwide,

The Labor Department says it is cracking down on firms that fail to pay interns properly and expanding efforts to educate companies, colleges and students on the law regarding internships.

Nancy J. Leppink, director of the Labor Department’s wage and hour division claimed that in most cases unpaid internships violate the law.

If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law.

In the current economic downturn, companies have cut costs by offering an increased number of unpaid internships. Young college students voluntarily apply to these internships knowing in advance that they will not receive a paycheck. Both parties end up mutually benefiting from the unpaid internship. The student can gain experience, valuable skills, positive references from employers while getting their foot in the door of their chosen field. It is practically universally agreed upon that internships strengthen resumes and they are important in finding meaningful employment after graduation. Employers are also likely to benefit from the internships since interns hopefully will increase the company's productivity. Rationally, we only agree to arrangements that we believe serves our best interests.

Currently, I am an unpaid intern at FreedomWorks who is receiving college credit for my internship. I've probably learned more useful information in the past three months than I would in my typical political science college classes. I've also got to meet some of my political idols and got to experience working on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.  However, I probably would have never had the opportunity to experience this internship if FreedomWorks was forced to pay me DC minimum wage of $8.25 an hour.

While everyone wishes that they received a larger pay check or one at all, making unpaid internships illegal would have unintended consequences. Companies that cannot afford to pay their interns minimum wage would stop hiring interns at all. Ultimately, this would greatly reduce the number of internship opportunities available. More students would graduate college and start their job search without any relevant experience on their resumes. Once again, the nanny-state who believes that they know what’s best for you is attempting to impose a regulation on your freedom. Limiting students' freedom to exchange in a mutually beneficial unpaid internship will reduce their internship opportunities while ultimately reducing their chances of finding long-term employment.


This post is from ages ago but it crops up on a search about unpaid internships. So, first of all, the Department of Labor's guidelines on unpaid internships would not affect you at all. They apply to for-profits - not non-profit organizations. Second of all, without your "nanny-state" - companies could simply use unpaid internships from desperate youth to avoid paying for entry-level jobs. These guidelines offer unpaid interns the language to be able to, at the very least, ask for fair treatment by employers.