This morning, Michael Moroney wrote one of those pro-internship op-eds that seem to be so in vogue these days. But like so many who've come before him, Moroney failed to get all the facts first. He started with criticizing the recent lawsuits, so we'll start with this:
As Forbes recently noted, the Supreme Court established nearly six decades ago in Walling v. Portland Terminal Co. that unpaid internships are legal and exempt from minimum-wage laws as long as six conditions are met. These conditions heavily emphasize that the internship must be to the benefit of the intern, not the employer. Thus, so long as the intern is aware of, and agrees to, the fact that his internship is unpaid, and the employer approaches the internship with the intention of training the intern rather than just receiving output from him or her, the internship is lawful.
This is all well and good, but those conditions are often not met. In the Fox Spotlight case, the plaintiffs said they spent the majority of their time performing menial tasks such as fetching coffee and taking out garbage.
Then there's the "internships lead to jobs" argument.
Unfortunately, in today's fragile economy, the alternative to an unpaid internship is often unemployment, and being unemployed at a young age can have reverberating effects for many years.
The other problem with this argument is that unpaid internships don't often lead to jobs. A study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that having an unpaid internship under your belt provides only a negligible boost in your job prospects. You're far more likely to find a job with a paid internship, and you're more likely to find a a paid job if you're not spending 30-40 hours a week at an internship that's not providing you an income or prospects for income.
Moroney also completely neglects the social aspects of the unpaid internship: Only people who can afford unpaid internships take them, and the more a field relies on them, the more that industry is going to rely solely on middle- and upper-class individuals, perpetuating inequality and making it more difficult for those in poverty to climb the social ladder.
Internships are a blight and an easy excuse for companies to employ free labor. While society would be better off if we stamped them out completely, at a minimum, they should adhere to some basic levels of fairness. That is what these lawsuits are all about.