Blog post

The growing culture of unpaid internships—Ross Perlin interviewed by U.S. News

Chris Webb 3 August 2011

Following up their article on The Ethics of Unpaid Internships, which traverses  the legal and ethical swamp of the US intern economy, U.S. News has interviewed Intern Nation author Ross Perlin to get the full scoop on growing trends in internship culture. Ross describes the two main arguments in his book as follows:

One is that the internship system, if you can call it that, is chaotic and sprawling, and in many ways has gone off the rails; it's not working as it should ... Companies are not using internships in the way they used to in many cases, as a recruiting pipeline, as a way to bring talent into the firm. They're using them as a cheap labor force that they're cycling through without any prospect of bringing [interns] on as regular workers. 

His second argument is that internships possess a highly unequal class character—perhaps not a phrase (or political argument) that the readers of the U.S. News business page are all too comfortable with.

There is a social justice issue here. If you have the gateway into the workforce being something where you have to come from a well-off-enough background ... people who are from [big cities] where internships are concentrated and have a place to live or are from families that have the money to enable somebody to work unpaid for a summer or six months or even a year, those people are at a serious advantage.

What makes Intern Nation unique and a truly fascinating read is the author's ability to tie the rise of the intern economy into "changes in academia, to changes in the labor market, to certain generational issues, and even to digital culture and the internet." 

Visit U.S. News to read the interview in full.

Filed under: interviews