Some Students Cannot Afford An Internship

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Whether you're currently in college or several years past graduation, chances are you've faced a point where you needed a job but lacked the technical skills and experience required to acquire one in your chosen sector.  

For unemployed 20-somethings facing this conundrum, the compromise to finding relevant employment and getting paid a decent salary can be a tough one.  Waiting tables or making phone calls for telemarketers might help pay the bills, if one is lucky, but will do nothing to advance them toward getting a job that they love.

Internships provide a platform for young people to get their foot in the door of a company in which they'd like to work and potentially get paid for doing it, with the prospective of possibly being hired on as a regular employee in the future.  Interns often get to live in major metropolitan cities for three to six months, learning the relevant skills for their career aspirations and immersing themselves in cool company subcultures while making connections with people working in their chosen field.  It's a win-win situation, right?

Unfortunately for many people, internships can cost them more than they'll earn.

The costs and benefits of internships are not hard-line and are ultimately determined by the nature of the interns' situations and the internships themselves.  For students and graduates from low-income backgrounds, however, finding a decent internship might be next to impossible.

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To say that internships are never beneficial would be extremely shortsighted -- even simply finding out that you don't want to work in a particular sector can be invaluable information for future career goals.  Furthermore, receiving academic credit in lieu of financial payment might ultimately save money in the long run for students who are still in college, as working at an internship can shorten the time it takes to graduate.

But internships often come with costs that are not offset by the payment or credit that the intern receives.  First off, many internships take place in metropolitan locations.  Depending on job sector, some areas have significantly more opportunities than others.

A 2016 study by job market analytics company Burning Glass found that the majority of marketing internships tend to be clustered in California and New York.  Information technology is popular in Massachusetts, while science and environmental opportunities are common in Maine and Alaska.

Based on this data, a marketing student or recent graduate in Montana might find themselves traveling to California for work.  Yet due to the temporal brevity of some internships, employers usually do not provide accommodations. Interns may subsequently find themselves spending more than they can afford on housing.

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Of course, providing interns with a place to live is not the responsibility of the employer.  The opportunity for those just beginning in their fields to work an internship far from home often comes down to factors such as the ability or willingness of their parents to help pay for housing, whether or not they have friends or family in the area, how much they had saved up beforehand, and how much the company will be paying them -- if anything at all.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, interns are required to be paid at least minimum wage unless they meet six criteria for not having to provide compensation.  This is largely based on whether the employee is getting any benefit out of the intern's activities.  If there is a benefit, the company is required to pay them.  

Time reports that 48 percent of internships were unpaid, according to a 2015 study by internship-matching company Looksharp .  At least some of these employers may have been cheating interns out of rightful pay due to misinterpretation of the unpaid internship criteria.  U.S. News & World Report names Universal Music Group, Viacom and Fox Searchlight Pictures as companies who have been sued for violating intern labor laws.

As mentioned, the base amount required for an intern whose work benefits the company is minimum wage.  According to Time, the top cities in which students want to intern -- New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco -- are also some of the most costly places to live.

CNBC reports that the cheapest of these three cities, Los Angeles, has an estimated cost of living of $38,024. This breaks down to $9,506 for the duration of a standard three-month internship, which requires a compensation of $19.80 per hour for full-time work.  The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reports that the average hourly rate for interns between Nov. 21, 2016 and Feb. 17, 2017 was $18.06.

Luckily, for low-income and out-of-state interns, there are a number of grants and scholarships that help pay living costs so students and graduates can work at jobs that will help to advance their careers.  With NACE reporting that roughly two-thirds of internships result in job offers, it's important to make these opportunities available to all individuals.

Sources: U.S. News & World Report, NACE, Burning Glass, U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, CNBC, Time / Featured Image: Andrew Hitchcock/Flickr / Embedded Images: PexelsPxHere

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