In the United States, unpaid internships are gradually becoming a rite of passage for any college student who aspires to a white-collar job. According to Pro Publica, up to one million residents of the US work at an unpaid internship every year. The interns are not only completely deprived of the obvious wealth they’ve created for their employers, but are also deprived of basic legal rights as a worker, such as paid time off, adequate protection against sexual harassment, or the right to form a union. Moreover, interns often lose money during their internships, as they are expected to pay for their own housing, transportation, and food. The only way in which interns are treated like “real” workers is the Department of Labor’s insistent lack of interest in resolving disputes and complaints against employers.
American youth are forced to accept such insanity as “normal” and “obligatory” because 60% of all employers prefer applicants with internship experience. The prospect of getting a job after graduation is greatly increased with such unpaid labor recorded on one’s resume. As more students are forced into debt by rocketing tuition, they have no choice but to take whatever measures they can to help them get a job after graduating. Meaningful, quality—and heaven forbid, paid—internships are increasingly rare as employers prefer to hire unpaid interns. Spending entire semesters interning for a disrespectful boss, while learning nothing of real value, is an increasingly common story told among students. This practice is now embraced as an effective cost-cutting strategy by bosses throughout the country, from nonprofits and startups to President Obama, who uses large numbers of unpaid interns in the White House.
Rising inequality means that only students from well-off families can afford to volunteer for such wageless slavery. Those who urgently need income to support their families or themselves will not be able to intern for free, and will therefore have a lower chance of finding a quality job. As a result, many young people will never find a job in their field of study, despite being tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
We must look at this debacle dialectically, however, and realize that this barrier against the youth will lead to an American working class that is larger, younger, more conscious, and more militant. Millions of young people are acutely aware of how intolerable this situation has become, and will not forgive a system that offers false promises and then spits in their faces. In the future they will be the ones that rise up against the capitalists, and the Marxists must be there to help orient them towards a socialist revolution that will forever change everyone’s lives for the better.