Politics

Unpaid Government Internships Are Unfair and Hypocritical

| by Will Hagle

The unpaid internship is the biggest scam of our time. The fact that it’s both legal and acceptable for companies to pay their employees in “experience” or school credit (that they have to pay for) simply does not make sense. No matter the justification — possibility of long-term employment, experience, etc. — unpaid internships are nothing more than socially-acceptable exploitation of our own workforce. 

This type of exploitation is rampant amongst private corporations, but it exists throughout the federal government as well. In fact, 21% of all unpaid interns work for government organizations. 41% work for non-profit groups. 

Christopher Evans published an article on Foreign Policy today explaining that he recently began working as an unpaid intern for the U.S. Department of State. He’s a 32-year-old father and veteran. He’s already served his country, but now they’re making him work for free in order to further his professional career (which still involves serving his country). By the end of the article, he comes to the conclusion that he’s been awarded a rare opportunity, so he might as well take advantage of it.

Opportunity is great, but federal law states that every employee in the country is entitled to minimum wage. It’s more than ironic, then, that so many federal employees are required to work for free. The current administration has even publicly advocated that the minimum wage — currently $7.25 per hour — should be increased. Despite Obama’s well documented support for a change to minimum wage laws, the White House still hypocritically employs a large number of unpaid workers. 

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Unpaid internships are widely regarded by society as a necessary step towards finding full-time employment. They give young workers the skills and experience they need to further their professional careers. They also give companies free labor. Legally, employers can only offer unpaid internships if employing a non-paid worker is more of a burden for the company than it is a help. Those vague requirements, of course, are often circumvented with little to no consequence. Many interns don’t want to speak up out of fear that they’ll eventually be offered a full-time position. 

One of the worst aspects of unpaid internships is that only financially stable or supported individuals have the means and resources to take them. It’s possible to intern and work at the same time, but it’s immensely more challenging. If that’s the only path to a successful career in government, then it will only become more difficult for poor or otherwise disenfranchised individuals to contribute at the federal level. That’s a frightening trend in a country with a rapidly widening income gap. 

In March 2014, in conjunction with last year’s class of graduating college students, the unemployment rate for individuals under the age of 25 was 14.5%. That’s more than twice the overall unemployment rate of the time at 6.7%. The most recent overall unemployment rate was 5.6%. If the government actually wants to repair the economy, close the income gap and improve the lives of low-level workers, they could at least give their workers the $7.25 per hour that they hypocritically claim is too low.  

Sources: Forbes, Foreign Policy, EPI