Who benefits the most from an unpaid internship?

Unpaid interns at Fox Searchlight have filed a suit over their work at the film distributor, claiming violations of employment law. Similar complaints have been made against other media companies. Today’s Question: Who benefits the most from an unpaid internship?

  • Camille

    Based upon the definition of an intern (stated in the linked article), the benefit is required to be solely the interns. The company is not to benefit and is to specifically provide an educational experience for the intern. In addition, the intern cannot replace a paid employee position. However, if a company finds an intern which they have future interest in, it would be a great benefit to the company to be able to “groom” a future potential employee without paying them.

  • Maria

    I am adult who lost everything in the Great Recession, and who has long finished her education (including a doctoral degree), and I found myself “overqualified and underexperienced” and unemployed for a long time. I arranged an ad hoc internship with a community based health clinic system with the hope that I’d gain that experience and be able to network with others in the field of applied public health. When I found myself doing nothing but auditing medical records 20 hours a week, I quit.

  • Steve the Cynic

    The employer, duh. Workers are so disempowered in the current economy that businesses can get people to work without pay by dangling the carrot of maybe someday getting a real job with the company. This is the kind of thing that happens when the wealth disparity grows too large, the result of three decades of deregulation and government-abetted union-busting. It’s called plutocracy. Time for the pendulum to swing back the other way!

  • James

    Unpaid internships are often mutually beneficial, but should be illegal.

    Only a scumbag company or organization would blatantly take advantage of kids who are already being taken advantage of by their colleges and their landlords. Apparently there are lots of scumbags out there.

    I run a small company. We benefit from interns. Interns benefit from the experience. And the least we can do is pay them $10 or $12/hour.

    When an intern is being paid, it is a fair test. The intern has incentive to perform. The intern is not starving. And I have the right to be demanding.

    To me, unpaid internships are just another form or workplace harassement or slavery, or both.

  • Jim G

    The employer has all the benefit and treats interns as servants who should be happy for the opportunity to be abused. Right out of college my step-daughter worked at a west coast clothing company in graphic design as a paid intern. She was paid minimum wage. It was supposed to be a for only 6 months, but the company dangled the promise of a full time position, so she stayed another 5 months working on projects with the responsibility of a full designer. Her designs for children’s jackets are currently for sale on the the company’s website. The end result was that her promised full-time position went to a friend of the hiring manager. She is now employed as a full designer with another graphic design firm that works their new designers 50-60 hours a week without overtime or flex time. The power to abuse these paid and unpaid internships is available to business and they’ll keep doing it as long as the laws allow it. As a former leader in my local union I believe that unions are needed as a counterweight to the immoral heavy hand of corporate power.

  • Gary F

    “Only a scumbag company or organization would blatantly take advantage of kids who are already being taken advantage of by their colleges and their landlords. Apparently there are lots of scumbags out there.”

    Most if not all Twin Cities media outlets, including MPR, use interns. I

  • Jim B.

    Based on my previous experience at a local non-profit the benefit is almost entirely the intern’s. They are not free labor as the time needed to bring them up to speed and oversee them for the relatively short time they will be with an organization means the paid staff spends at least as much time (if not more) on the projects to which the intern is assigned than they otherwise would.

  • georges

    “Right out of college my step-daughter worked at a west coast clothing company in graphic design as a paid intern. She was paid minimum wage.”

    What a great deal for her. Right out of college, she gets the opportunity to learn the West Coast clothing business from the inside of a successful, operating company, and she even gets paid, instead of having to pay for this information, which will be invaluable to her as she applies for jobs at other companies, or starts her own business.

    What a lucky girl she is. Provided she is sufficiently able to make proper use of the free education she has been given by the Capitalist system.

  • david

    I don’t have any experience being or working with interns, but it seems to be the next logical backwards step in this country’s race to become the world’s largest 3rd world nation. For over 20 years now it’s next to impossible to get a full time entry-level position with benefits. Companies will only use temps and string them along for years with the carrot of a full time job. I worked for a large Minneapolis based poorly run financial corporation where i was often the only full time employee in charge if 20+ temps. That was my biggest motivation in going back to school in hopes of finding something better. Now i am a contract worker without benefits half way thru the 6 month period i have to work before being eligible to be hired permanently. I hope the place I’m at will hire me, and I think they will, but nothing is certain anymore. I imagine the cost of healthcare is the largest driver behind corporation’s decisions to operate this way, but it’s long term foolish behavior. To bad about 50% of the population is opposed to doing anything about it.

  • Larry M.

    Trust fund kids that can afford to forgo having a paying job to take the internship and the organization that offers the internship.

  • jockamo

    The intern benefits the most, of course, if he/she is smart enough to keep his/her eyes and ears and brain open and mouth tightly zipped.

    Well, MPR, you managed to do a whole show on Ayn Rand, with 2 guests, both of whom are obvious haters of logic and objectivity, and neither of whom has the cranial capacity to understand what Ayn Rand says.

    Indeed, both guests are so intellectually inept that they together wouldn’t make half of a rational being.

    The show was a complete hatchet job from beginning to end. It could have been, and possibly was, written and orchestrated by the Democrat Party and the Obama campaign…..

    Now, Eric Ringham….

    When is MPR going to have on 2 Ayn Rand scholars who DO understand what she said, so as to give Equal Time?

    Seeing MPR burns thru tens of millions of taxpayer dollars every year, they have the DUTY to present a fair and balanced political picture, not a one-sided Democrat Party platform only.


  • Kurt Nelson

    Hey jackamo,

    Here is a funny quote about that mental midget Ayn Rand

    “I hope you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky,” – Flannery O’Connor, in a letter to Maryat Lee, May 1960.

    Objectivism and all her work, wordy as it may be can be summed up in one easy to learn sentence

    “I got mine, fu** you”.

  • Mark in Freeborn

    In a perfect world, both the intern and the organization would benefit from the experience, but in the real world, it’s more probable that the organization benefits more. They get to take advantage of the uncompensated labor, while the intern gets to do whatever the organization tells them to do.

  • Craig

    Even valid internships involve some work which are neither à la bosse nor a la one’s boss. But if such is true of every task, the intern is being exploited.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Internships at nonprofits are a different animal, since at least nominally the organization’s prime motive is serving the public, not maximizing profits, and helping young workers learn may be part of their mission.

    Regarding Ayn Rand: I read The Fountainhead because I was bored, had heard of Rand and thought I should read her, and the book was in the “free” stack at a local library surplus sale, having not sold for $1 for several weeks. I really got into the story, up until the “consensual rape” scene. It was downhill from there. The whole idea of selfishness as a virtue goes against the accumulated wisdom of the ages and my own experience. It was disturbingly similar to Nietsche’s repugnant ideas. When she applied it to her own sexuality, she wound up making herself, her husband, her lover, and his wife miserable. If you can consider yourself happy while your neighbors suffer privation, there’s something wrong with you. Rand’s exalting of the individual is clearly an over-reaction to her experience of oppression first under the Tsar and then under Lenin (just as Marx-Leninism was an over-reaction to the abuses of mercantilism and laissez faire capitalism).

  • GregX

    Unpaid internships would make sense in a world where college was free. In a world where college costs an arm and a leg – students need an income to pay back loans. If participation in a “qualified”-internship deferred initiation of payback of student loans ( and no interest accumulation) -that would be a good thing. The reality is that un-paid internships are a further effort of the upper class (bankers, etal) to extract cash from middle and low class families on the front end and the back end. ALLOW students to declare bankruptcy and clear/discharge student loans. Maybe the feds stop loaning so much, maybe college becomes the third choice, maybe corporate American figures out the value of college students…. but the current system is screwy to say the least.

  • GregX

    Anyone who thinks Ayn Rand’s writing was in opposition to Tsarist opression or communist economic planning – is patently wrong. She combines the worst elements of both into a philosophy that effectively advances personal “tsarism” with personal “economic planning” to the disadvantage of everyone else – if successful!!. It is a philosophical approach that engenders distrust in the absolute, paranoia among partners and long term spiral into societal desititution.

  • Jefferson

    An unpaid internship is unheard of in degrees where there is actually a demand for workers, for example engineering or science degrees. I’m not really sure how an unpaid internship could even be legal since we have a minimum wage…either the student/recent grad should be getting paid or getting college credit…otherwise the “unpaid” internship sounds highly illegal. Either you have a minimum wage or you don’t…you can’t have it both ways.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Except, GregX, Rand herself apparently thought of her philosophy as the polar opposite of collectivism and communist central planning. Otherwise, I agree that her “objectivism” turns everyone into the tsar of one’s own individual tsardom in opposition to everyone else’s individual tsardom.

  • georges

    It is typical of the human being to believe he is speaking competently and accurately whenever he ventures an opinion on any subject, whether his genetic abilities allow him to understand the material opined upon or not.

    After all, when one is operating at the peak allowed by his personal heritage, he is blissfully unaware of higher comprehensive abilities.

    The dull-normal is as sure of himself as the bright-normal.

    Those of us with genetics in the top 1/10 of 1% are sometimes amused by these antics….and nearly always entertained to some extent.


  • Jefferson

    Now to address the comments about Ayn Rand. I don’t think the MPR segment on Ayn Rand was horrible; it was incomplete and both guests seemed to disagree with most of Rand’s viewpoints but at least one did attempt to be fair minded in explaining her views on government.

    As far as Ayn Rand’s actual ideology, many people would admit that it is one of the most intellectually honest perspectives and does not make exceptions like the current political parties do today. The idea that those who create new things (businesses, products or art) should be rewarded is hardly a controversial issue…individuals should take responsibility for their own economic situation and they shouldn’t expect a bailout/handout. One big problem today is that people who are simply middle-men and don’t actually create anything are making more than the guy who comes up with an app, a product or a new device. Does a banker or someone in the banking industry really create anything? Sure they deserve something for the minimal risk but in reality it should be a minimal profit/salary. I think having a bit more of Ayn Rand’s philosophy involved with government will make everyone a bit more independent and more willing to take responsibility for their current life situation instead of blaming others and believing that they “deserve” a hand out from government.

  • GregX

    SteveTheCynic “Except, GregX, Rand herself apparently thought of her philosophy as the polar opposite of collectivism and communist central planning. Otherwise, ”

    Yup – Ayn didn’t understand what she had acutally created and her followers are even less aware. Or are they …. ??? acutally hoping to find enough gullible sheep to follow the worst designed trickle down system ever.


  • GregX

    Ayn Rand was a Ponzi schemer at heart. Its all about her and screwpy-doo for everyone else.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Re: “One big problem today is that people who are simply middle-men and don’t actually create anything are making more than the guy who comes up with an app, a product or a new device.”

    Yup. And laissez faire capitalism doesn’t have a good answer for that problem. Money is power, and those who have it tend to use it to hoard more. If regulating those “middle-men” or taxing them more than the actual creators is anathema, there’s nothing that can be done about it.

  • Abigail

    Who benefits the most from an unpaid internship?

    Besides the obvious, the employer, I think that the intern may benefit greatly depending on how true to themselves they are.

  • Joshua Spotts

    For the vast majority of Minnesotans this will not change a single thing or cost them a penny more when inheriting from their dearly departed. As Op-eds go this is just a veiled piece of policy ideology, hiding the fact that it is nothing more than a political Ad. Further telling is that it is an unsigned Op-ed pulling quotes from a think-tank (aka political opinion factory) that could just as well be the same think-tank that wrote it. If the intent was to spark conversation by making this an Op-ed pick then so be it, but if this is just a repost for no other reason then it mentions MN, then it is a very poor pick and only provides the desired free advertising for what should be a paid for and signed political Ad.

  • Mike

    We’re #1! We’re #1 We’re #1