Are unpaid internships fair?

Nathan Parcells
Are unpaid internships fair?

Our guest blogger this week is Michelle Rick of the FosterCityPatch.

This week I’ll be diving into the chilly bay waters of unpaid internships, otherwise known as free labor, otherwise known as the way it is. An unpaid internship is basically swapping work for a line on your resume and experience (cute little anecdotes you can mention in job interviews).

The National Association of Colleges and Employers also reported that 50% of graduating students reported having held an internship in 2008. That statistic was 17% in 1992.

Anyone who says you can’t put a price on experience clearly never paid $42,500 to work at Vogue – unpaid, although I suppose if you can afford to pay that price, money is only an afterthought. The Huffington Post and Vanity Fair were the respective runners up, at $9,000 and $2,900 through an auction by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

“It seems to me that for-profits are now using interns in place of employees and this violates federal wage and hour rules,” Martha West, a UC Davis School of Law professor specializing in labor law said in this article. “Because of the recession, companies are more interested in getting free help.”

The media industry is notoriously one of the worst offenders when it comes to paying their interns. You can work at just about any company you can think of – Viacom, Time Warner, Universal – so long as you are a currently enrolled college student who takes their compensation in the form of credit hours.

A sweet spot for those interested in scoring a big-name internship is an urban Mecca like New York City. Still, even if you manage to unearth a paid internship, rent and living expenses will likely have you paying for the experience to work.

There are six criteria that an unpaid internship is supposed to meet in order to be under official compliance with the United States Department of Labor.