[Marxism] For Interns, All Work and No Payoff

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Feb 16 09:04:18 MST 2014


NY Times, Feb. 16 2014
For Interns, All Work and No Payoff
Millennials Feel Trapped in a Cycle of Internships With Little Pay and 
No Job Offers

By ALEX WILLIAMS

Like other 20-somethings seeking a career foothold, Andrew Lang, a 
graduate of Penn State, took an internship at an upstart Beverly Hills 
production company at age 29 as a way of breaking into movie production. 
It didn’t pay, but he hoped the exposure would open doors.

When that internship proved to be a dead end, Mr. Lang went to work at a 
second production company, again as an unpaid intern. When that went 
nowhere, he left for another, doing whatever was asked, like delivering 
bottles of wine to 27 offices before Christmas. But that company, too, 
could not afford to hire him, even part time.

A year later, Mr. Lang is on his fourth internship, this time for a 
company that produces reality TV shows. While this internship at least 
pays him (he makes $10 an hour, with few perks), Mr. Lang feels no 
closer to a real job and worries about being an intern forever. “No one 
hires interns,” said Mr. Lang, who sees himself as part of a “revolving 
class of people” who can’t break free of the intern cycle. “Is this any 
way to live?”

The intern glass ceiling isn’t limited to Hollywood. Tenneh Ogbemudia, 
23, who aspires to be a record executive, has had four internships at 
various New York media companies, including Source magazine and 
Universal Music Group.

“In any given month, I’d say I apply to at least 300 full-time jobs,” 
she said, noting these attempts were to no avail. “On the other hand, I 
can apply to one or two internship positions a month and get a call back 
from both.”

Call them members of the permanent intern underclass: educated members 
of the millennial generation who are locked out of the traditional 
career ladder and are having to settle for two, three and sometimes more 
internships after graduating college, all with no end in sight.

Like an army of worker ants, they are a subculture with a distinct 
identity, banding together in Occupy Wall Street-inspired groups and, 
lately, creating their own blogs, YouTube channels, networking groups 
and even a magazine that captures life inside the so-called Intern Nation.

It is a young, rudderless community that is still trying to define 
itself. “I’m just wondering at what point how many internships is too 
many,” said Lea, who received a master’s degree from Parsons, the New 
School for Design two years ago and aspires to work as a magazine art 
director. (She was allowed to use only her first name to avoid 
jeopardizing a current job application.) So far, her résumé has been 
limited to three internships — planning events for teenagers at the 
Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, compiling news clippings for a public 
relations agency in New York, and being the “fetch-the-coffee girl” at 
an art gallery.

While feeling trapped inside what she calls a “never-ending intern 
life,” Lea satisfies her creative impulses by editing a food and drinks 
column at a lifestyle blog, selling coral fan necklaces on Etsy, and 
starting a charity to teach children about “responsible” street art. She 
wonders if she should surrender to a fourth internship or settle for an 
office job outside her chosen field.

“I’m 26 right now,” she said. “I know that everyone has their own pace, 
but I don’t really feel like a real adult right now.”

There was a time not long ago when internships were reserved for college 
students. But that era is passing, with loosely defined internships — 
some paying a small stipend, some nothing — replacing traditional 
entry-level jobs for many fresh out of college.

The moribund economy is, without question, a primary factor behind the 
shift. Even though the employment picture has brightened since the 
depths of the Great Recession, few would describe it as sunny. The 
general unemployment rate inched down to 6.6 percent last month, but the 
jobless rate for college graduates age 20 to 24 stood at 8 percent in 
2013, compared with 5.1 percent in 2007, according to the Bureau of 
Labor Statistics.

No one tracks how many college graduates take internships, but 
employment experts and intern advocates say the number has risen 
substantially in recent years. “The postgraduate internship has 
exploded,” said Ross Perlin, author of the book “Intern Nation: How to 
Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy.” “This was 
something that became a real mainstream experience after the recession 
began.”

But the poor job market is not the only reason that recent graduates 
feel stuck in internships. Millennials, it is often said, want more than 
just a paycheck; they crave meaningful and fulfilling careers, maybe 
even a chance to change the world.

That may explain why millennials like Breanne Thomas, 24, an aspiring 
entrepreneur in Brooklyn, has bounced from internship to internship. 
Unlike her parents’ generation, it is not enough to find a steady job; 
she wants to follow the path of Mark Zuckerberg, or at least to get in 
on the ground floor of the next Facebook, the next Twitter.

“‘Success’ doesn’t always mean financial success, but doing something 
you’re passionate about,” said Ms. Thomas, who graduated with two 
bachelor’s degrees from the University of Oregon in 2012. “It’s kind of 
my goal one day to have my own company, to be part of something that is 
going to do something great. That’s why I’m in tech.”

That kind of ambition comes with a price, however. Competition for 
salaried high-tech jobs is fierce, so Ms. Thomas has had to settle for 
internships: three, so far, including at a five-person food-delivery 
start-up, a beauty products site and, currently, a well-known 
social-networking app that she asked not to name.

While the idea of slaving away in two, three or four quasi jobs without 
a clear path for advancement may seem unimaginable to an older 
generation, those in their 20s seem to respond to their jobless fate 
with a collective shrug. To them, internships are the new normal. “For 
some people, being an accountant, taking a safe route, is perfectly 
fine, but that’s not where my values lie,” Ms. Thomas said.

This is especially true in more creative fields, whether it is 
filmmaking or publishing. “It’s fashion,” said Dawn Joyce, 24, when 
asked why she has gone through four internships since 2010. Those 
include unpaid stints at a major fashion magazine, where she mingled 
with Zooey Deschanel and Julianne Moore at photo shoots, and at a public 
relations firm, where she held front-row seats for late-arriving 
celebrities like Selena Gomez. “I consider myself to be pretty jaded 
already.”

“I have seen a lot of people beside me quit,” Ms. Joyce added. “It’s 
sort of like, ‘Let’s see who lasts the longest.’ ”

As their ranks have swelled, interns are beginning to see themselves as 
part of a special class, albeit one with few privileges and perks. They 
share their own brand of gallows humor, their own pride of purpose and 
their own battle-hardened worldview tinged with a risk-taker’s optimism.

This intern-centric culture has spawned numerous blogs, a place at the 
multiplex (think of “The Internship,” from last year, with Owen Wilson 
and Vince Vaughn playing a pair of 40-something Google interns) and even 
its own magazine.

Intern magazine, which came out in October, grew out of the frustrations 
of Alec Dudson, 29, a former intern who toiled in London’s publishing 
industry. “I was working 30 hours a week at odd jobs, on top of 40 hours 
a week at internships, and I knew there wasn’t a job at the end of it,” 
said Mr. Dudson, who slept on friends’ sofas to help make ends meet. “I 
needed to do something of my own.”

That something turned out to be a glossy, biannual magazine that is 
geared for those with a design and creative bent, and looks like a 
fashion bible for the Black Book crowd. The feature articles provide 
tips and inspiration for the faceless drones who keep the style 
industries humming, including a first-person piece by a Spanish 
photographer who cut his teeth by interning for Richard Kern in New York.

“There is a culture of internships, a situation whereby it is completely 
normal for young people to think that working unpaid is just part of the 
process,” Mr. Dudson said. “Nobody even questions it. I wasn’t the only 
one confused about where the boundaries lie, how much of this stuff do 
you have to do before someone takes you seriously.”

These days, there are no shortages of places, online and off, for 
interns to gather and commiserate. Groups like FindSpark, a New York 
jobs network for recent graduates, offer meetups and mixers with themes 
like “Find and Follow Your Passion” and “Your Personal Brand” that draw 
hundreds. Interns who tire of glad-handing their way through mixers with 
frozen smiles often vent their frustrations on anonymous blogs like 
Fashion Intern Problems, the short-lived Life of an Investment Banking 
Summer Slave and, for Hollywood’s version of Roman galley slaves, 
Anonymous Production Assistant Blog and Intern-Anonymous.

“I worked 32 hours a week and was treated like a minion,” one commenter 
wrote on Intern-Anonymous. “I was then fired because they were afraid I 
would leak information.”

Lately, however, long-suffering interns are starting to do more than 
complain. They point to the Labor Department’s six criteria for legal 
internships, which stipulate that companies that do not pay interns must 
provide vocational education and refrain from substituting interns for 
paid employees, among others. Those rules have been highly open to 
interpretation and their enforcement is sporadic.

In a much-publicized lawsuit in 2011, two unpaid interns sued the 
filmmakers of “Black Swan” alleging a violation of federal and New York 
State minimum wage laws. Last June, a federal judge in New York ruled in 
favor of the interns. (The case is on appeal.)

“It’s an institutionalized form of wage theft,” said Eric Glatt, 44, one 
of the plaintiffs who has since helped form an Occupy-inspired group 
called Intern Labor Rights. Last year, the group distributed fake swag 
bags and buttons that read “Pay Your Interns” outside fashion shows in 
New York.

That ruling opened the floodgates to some 30 other lawsuits against 
companies like Warner Music Group, Elite Model Management and, perhaps 
most notably, Condé Nast. In that suit, one plaintiff, Lauren Ballinger, 
who interned at W while still in college, conjured visions of “The Devil 
Wears Prada” with her stories of toiling away on menial tasks like 
organizing jewelry for 12-hour shifts for a stipend that she claimed 
broke down to $1 an hour.

While the plaintiffs in the Condé Nast suit had been students at the 
time of their internships, such lawsuits have sent a chill through the 
Intern Industrial Complex, affecting undergraduates and postgraduates 
alike as companies scramble to adjust to the new legal landscape.

Some, like NBC Universal, have responded by paying interns. Other former 
intern magnets are redefining the position (Gawker Media now calls its 
entry-level workers “editorial fellows”).

In some cases, however, the intern revolt may be backfiring.

Last October, Condé Nast announced that it was ending the internship 
programs within its 25 magazines, which means that 20-something aspiring 
magazine editors will have one less place to get a toehold for their 
“meaningful” careers.

“Can you hear it?” one commenter wrote on a WWD article about the ending 
of internships. “It’s my dream of a Vogue internship going straight out 
the window.”




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