Intern Life: Who Gets Paid?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

All this month, we're looking at the world of internships, from pay to policy. Our guest for this month, Steven Greenhouse, New York Times labor and workplace correspondent and author of The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker, continues the weekly series on life as an intern and the socioeconomics of internships.


Steven Greenhouse

Comments [24]

Liz from NYC

A short, hilarious take on interning (and how anyone can afford to do it in NYC)

Aug. 20 2012 03:59 PM
Erica S from West Virginia

I am a 24 year old chemical engineer, and I will have to admit, I did not fall into this category; engineers are always paid something, whether it is in research or industry.

I will admit though, it was REALLY difficult to get one. Engineering is competitive, and most industrial internships are offered in the form of co-ops, which put students behind a year. While co-ops were easier to get, I did not want to be behind a year; while many reasons dictated this (let's get the heck out of school!), my decision was also based on financial and health reasons; I did not want to take out additional loans for five years of study, and I would not have been considered a "full time student" doing a co-op (since I wouldn't be taking classes). At the time, there was no Obamacare rule for under-26-year olds, and therefore, I was at risk of being kicked off of my mother's insurance, which was completely needed for a chronic illness. A lot of my friends said their parents just avoided talking to the insurance companies all together, but I was still nervous to take such a risk.

So what did I do? I received a competitive research study offered by the NSF the summer after my sophomore year, which was due to complete luck and good grades. The second year, I was having so much trouble finding an internship in industry (again, it is usually longer than a summer for engineers), but I eventually lucked out by meeting up with someone in my hometown at a local engineering firm. I agree sometimes, it's who you know, not what you know...the what you know is gained from much-needed experience!


Aug. 17 2012 08:03 AM
Amy from Washington, DC

It's not just unpaid internships but also the nonprofit/campaign racket where they pay below the living wage and expect you to work 20hrs/day most times without health insurance or any benefits and bully you (on behalf of the cause) to not take any vacation or sick days. Young people need unions and ironically some of these nonprofits advocate for human or workers rights!

Aug. 17 2012 07:05 AM
Karen from Rockland County, NY

Both children had internships (paid and unpaid) throughout college. One boring internship actually developed into a current(beloved!)full time job. The biggest scam was the law firm that did not pay her but billed their clients for her work! One tip for getting credit: Don't pay your current institution's high "per credit" fee for your summer internship--instead enroll in your community college (or lowest per credit institution you can find) and pay THEIR tuition fee for your summer internship if it is required, or else you are paying to work.

Aug. 16 2012 12:53 PM
Ana Kosok

I'm an internship advisor at La Guardia Community College, where Internships are required for graduation. My understanding is that as of April 2010, government regulations stipulated that all unpaid internships must come with college credits.

An internship at La Guardia is preceded by a career development course and the internship itself is accompanied by a seminar with 25 other students, all of whom are doing internships. Internship sites evaluate the student's performance at the end of the semester, which is part of the learning experience and part of the grade.

Internship sites partner with La Guardia and there are some outstanding and juicy ones. I've placed interns at: the American Museum of Natural History, Goldman Sachs, Con Edison, and photographer Mary Ellen Marks, just to name a few. These internships are life-changing. Students get that much needed experience for their resume and quite a few get job offers. Some students elect to do a 2nd and 3rd internship.

As you can tell, I'm a big fan of internships, paid or unpaid.

Ana Kosok, Ed. D.
Adjunct Associate Professor
Department of Co-Op Education
La Guardia Community College

Aug. 16 2012 11:15 AM

I went to college in VA, and did an unpaid internship in NYC for two months over the summer. I work in fashion design, and it's incredibly hard to get your first job if you don't have an internship on your resume. I was lucky to have family friends in Connecticut I could stay with for free, and lived off student loan money. I had the option to get college credit, but I "went rogue" instead because I didn't want to pay tuition for summer school on top of everything else!

Aug. 16 2012 11:01 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Really, monetary wealth has SO many ripple effects that too many of us are unaware of. A national discussion is in order. Let the candicacy of the self-congratulatory Mitt Romney be the occasion.

Aug. 16 2012 11:00 AM
Jana from Brooklyn

Do you seriously think, as you stated, that you can get a WNYC internship just by applying? The odds that you'll get selected aren't that great unless you know someone.

Aug. 16 2012 10:59 AM
joy from NYC

On a slightly different topic, the organization ReServe offers "stipends" to older However, this practice seems to be in some cases, an exploitation of the older worker. Especially in this tough economy, older workers who happen to need work, are accepting this "stipend," altho in reality deserve a market rate of salary. THese are workers who cannot find other work and ReServe is in effect taking advantage of these workers. THe intent of ReServe seems to be not in harmony w/reality.

Aug. 16 2012 10:59 AM
stephen from manhattan

I worked as an unpaid intern in the film business for about 6 months. I also had two paying jobs. I had no connections, I just pestered production companies until one told me to come in. It was a lot of work but the internship finally began paying me and I quit the other 2 jobs. Without that internship I can not imagine how I would have got my foot in the door. Plus, I learned so much in those unpaid months. I really saw how a professional studio worked and who all the players were.

Aug. 16 2012 10:59 AM
The Truth from Becky

What's going on? I mean we all had two menial jobs while doing an internship didn't we? Young people are getting so soft these can't afford to hold an unpaid internship, you work two jobs to survive in the meantime. The pay off is worth it!

Aug. 16 2012 10:59 AM

Mary, school credit is usually a given with internships unless it's a situation like the Hershey warehouse jobs.

However, one thing that hasn't gotten enough mention is the negative effect to our economy over the long term of changing summer jobs into unpaid internships.

Aug. 16 2012 10:56 AM

I am a professor at Queens College, in the Dept. of Urban Studies. Most of our students are first generation, working class college students. We started an internship program (primarily placing students in non profits or government agencies) because we strongly believe that they should have the same opportunities for networking that wealthier students have. Thanks to a generous grant we are now also able to pay them small stipends. This helps tremendously as many of our students also have part time jobs.

Aug. 16 2012 10:56 AM

As a student juggling two internships, I was very excited when I learned that the Brian Lehrer Show would be doing a segment on internships. I have a lot of opinions on the subject, but unfortunately, I can't call and express them because I am a high schooler, and can't relate to a lot of the problems being discussed. I realize that interns still in high school are in a tiny minority, but I think that our troubles and opinions should be addressed as well.

Aug. 16 2012 10:55 AM
John from NYC


Otherwise what's the point of becoming successful????

OK, there is the problem of those who cannot afford it --- HOW ABOUT THE SCHOOL SYSTEM, PLUS NON-PROFITS, PROVIDING SCHOLARSHIPS????

Two choices -- outlaw the advantages of the advantaged, or PROVIDING MORE OPPORTUNITIES FOR ALL.

Guess which side this audience will come down on???

Aug. 16 2012 10:55 AM
Phil from Greenpoint

Whats the legality? My understanding was that unpai internships without college credit are a violation of minimum wage laws, in addition to being, in my opinion, unethical. I have a production company, and we always pay interns Jo aren't getting edu. credit.

Aug. 16 2012 10:55 AM
RJ from prospect hts

As an undergrad in the late 70s I could not find paid internships--and I looked hard--in journalism. I worked my butt off at part-time jobs, as well as taking classes. My classes suffered, though I graduated respectably. Nothing much has changed except it's now higher income fields--such as lawyers--that are now abusing the "system."

Aug. 16 2012 10:53 AM

If a business wants to prosper they want the best people...paid or unpaid. The market will dictate who gets the internships in the long run...NO gvt acton is needed.

Aug. 16 2012 10:53 AM
Anonymous from NYC

It is absolutely the new class divider. My son can afford to do an unpaid experience because we live in NYC and he can live and eat for free. By contrast a very good friend of his who does not come from a family of economic means and lives in the suburbs cannot afford to do an internship because of the cost of commuting, etc. makes it impossible for her. She did it for one week and could not afford to continue. My son (film business) decided to do an unpaid internship as long as he felt he was getting something out of it, when that was no longer the case he told the "employer" that he could no longer work for free and they said they would start paying him on an as-needed basis as an independent contractor. Definitely a case of taking advantage as long as you can get away with it.

Aug. 16 2012 10:52 AM
Anonymous from New York, New York

Unpaid internships at non-profits are problematic, but even more problematic are internships at for-profit entities. I'm always shocked to see listings for unpaid internships at galleries and other profitable businesses.

Aug. 16 2012 10:52 AM
wendy from nyc

I've been at fundraising events where "attractive" internships at international banks, for instance, were auctioned off for significant contributions, with bids made at thousands of dollars!

Aug. 16 2012 10:51 AM
Halley from Boston, MA

I actually changed majors when I was in undergrad. from Architecture to Civil Engineering because I couldn't find a paid internship at an architecture firm. Civil engineering was much more successful.

Aug. 16 2012 10:50 AM
Matt from Washington DC via Queens

Though I consider myself more privileged than many, I performed an internship because I couldn't find a job. I worked nights to allow that to happen, while also not living at home. Sadly, that was the only real way I got my foot in the door to find my current position. But not all those who perform internships work, and I worked alongside people who leeched from their parents. Unfortunately, it's difficult for employers to discriminate between these two types.

Aug. 16 2012 10:50 AM
Mary from Brooklyn

Interns SHOULD get school credit if they are not getting paid.

Aug. 16 2012 10:50 AM

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