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Opinion: Confessions of a Summer Intern

Jun 21, 2010 – 5:22 AM
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Ron Meyer

Special to AOL News
(June 21) -- As summer gets into full swing, young people across the country are starting their summer jobs. Some of us are heading to summer camp, others are starting jobs at stores and apparently a few of us are even crazy enough to sign up for voluntary internment.

During my past three years in college, I've subjected myself multiple times to the supposedly unfair and condescending practices of unpaid internships. It's a tough life working without pay, making coffee, cleaning offices and performing menial tasks for employers who sometimes don't appreciate you.

Other Views on Summer Internships

I had to work other jobs in order to save up money to pay for food and housing for my internships. While I got a comfortable stipend from the National Journalism Center, my other internships didn't pay me squat.

Were these companies actually sinister, subjecting me to something comparable to child labor? Should I file a complaint with the Department of Labor?

Absolutely not.

When someone works as an unpaid intern, both the intern and the employer believe they are each gaining from the exchange. The employer gets free labor, and the intern gets knowledge, experience and contacts. No one is getting a raw deal. Both parties are happy and have the freedom to terminate the agreement whenever they like.

And in my case, internships provided me with invaluable work experience and networking opportunities I simply couldn't have gotten anywhere else.

The real tragedy here is that the people who complain about internships are winning the debate in the Department of Labor.

Nancy J. Leppink, the acting director of the Department of Labor's wage and hour division, said she plans to crack down on unpaid internships. "If you're a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren't going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law."

An executive department should not be banning a harmless exchange between two willing parties. Not only that, I wonder why the rules only apply to for-profit companies. Why not Congress and other nonprofits?

If any of my internships exploited me, it was my congressional internship. There were plenty of times where the work I did at the Capitol seemed degrading. But, as with many of our laws, Congress is exempt.

It's difficult to understand the motivation behind a decision like this. It's easy to blame special interests like unions, but I believe the government's primary justification is the supposition that fewer interns will mean more real jobs.

Still, a world without unpaid internships won't stimulate our economy. Most of the time, businesses will find ways to manage without them.

So these new rules don't appear to be life-changing to anyone except interns, and, unfortunately, we don't have much of a lobby to fight back.

As someone who has incurred immense value from these ventures, my only wish is that the people in power -- most of whom have undoubtedly benefited from their own unpaid internships -- keep these opportunities available for the next generation.

Ron Meyer attends Principia College and has interned for the National Journalism Center, Radio America, the Santa Barbara News-Press, Rep. Todd Akin and Fox News. He also writes for Human Events Online.
Filed under: Opinion
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