[Marxism] For Interns, All Work and No Payoff
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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
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
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
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
“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
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
“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
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