The Ethics of Unpaid Internships

Published 2 years ago -

Oliver Bugbee, Staff Writer

Internships are a great way to learn. They allow for a person to experience personal growth and gain new knowledge that they might not in the classroom. Internships can provide a hands-on preview of work in the real world. They provide opportunities for people to get ahead and get experience they may need for a potential entry-level job after graduation. However, in most scenarios, internships should not be unpaid, especially for college students and people who struggle financially. 60% of internships are unpaid, according to This makes the other 40% of internships that are paid highly competitive, thus it is even harder for low-income students to make money and gain valuable work experience at the same time.

If you don’t know me, I am a Human Services major, and I have an internship this semester. I had the privilege of having a good job over the summer of 2020, a time when many in this country were either struggling financially, lost their job, or even lost their healthcare. The pandemic has taken an emotional and economic toll on many. I am grateful for my situation, as I have been able to work my internship and not worry too much about my finances as someone who might not have been able to save as much from this past summer. However, I will be paying for loans upon graduation. I can’t help but think about those that have loans and do not have as much money at their disposal while they complete their Human Services internship.

Most college students have to take out student loans. College students face many unique challenges, including figuring out how to balance their budget and manage their money. If one is working an unpaid internship, they are going to be in a constant decline of money unless they have another occupation that is paid. This is especially problematic for students who need a consistent income to sustain themselves according to their needs, because not everyone has the resources or time to have an unpaid internship for twenty to forty hours.

Many would claim that although an internship is unpaid, it gives people an opportunity to gain important experience. While this is true, this is a statement that ignores the fact that many people are in dire need for money to maintain the costly lifestyle that being a college student entails, especially for lower-income individuals. Unpaid internships essentially exploit the valuable work that interns do, because interns often generate quite a bit of revenue for organizations. Many college students cannot afford to do unpaid internships in general. Time is valuable, and spending tons of hours each week at an internship earning no income is not economically sound for most college students. Unless one already has a lot of money saved to begin with that they made from a job, or they rely on their parents to lend money, most people end up in a constant deficit of money from doing unpaid labor.

One other common argument against my points I hear is when people say that money isn’t everything. In a society that quite literally values money over everything by monetizing and privatizing nearly every single industry, unfortunately money actually is everything. It shouldn’t be, but we live in a capitalist society, where companies and corporations value making profits over human life and health, profits over financial success for their workers, etc. It is significantly easier for one to say that money doesn’t mean everything if they come from an economically privileged and/or comfortable background. I can even say that I am guilty of this, as growing up, I had everything I needed. I used to think that money wasn’t everything, until I learned more about the way capitalism functions in America. I came from a financially comfortable middle-class background in Vermont, where both my parents have been consistently having an income for as long as I’ve been alive.

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