Overworked and Underpaid

Ashley Monaghan arrives to our interview almost an hour late. There’s a hint of sleep in her eyes as she apologizes profusely for having overslept. In spite of her malfunctioning alarm clock, she managed to show up perfectly coifed and styled, donning stylish ankle boots, a bowler hat and what amounts to a floral embroidered cloak.

Ashley Monaghan discusses her multiple unpaid positions.

Ashley Monaghan discusses her multiple unpaid positions.

It’s no surprise Monaghan has a hard time keeping her daily commitments straight; she wears many hats (figuratively and literally).

Monaghan, a public relations freshman, sometimes struggles to keep track of all her responsibilities. It’s understandable. She juggles being a full-time student with copy editing at The Daily Reveille, blogging for vintage boutique The Revival Outpost in New Orleans, doing PR work for Delta Literary Journal, interning at even

t company NOCCI and recently assisting with model coordination for NOLA Fashion Week.

Of these six positions, only two pay.

Monaghan recognizes that she is one of the lucky ones. Her parents help her out financially so that she’s able to do the work she loves for no pay.

“It would be so different if I was on my own,” she said. “I could not live this life if I was on my own.”

Monaghan’s story is a familiar one to the many college students who pour hard work and countless hours into internships, often for little to no pay or course credit.

According to a 2010 study by researchers at Intern Bridge, 75 percent of college students complete internships before graduation. Another study by Intern Bridge in 2012 showed that more than half of college internships are unpaid. For many students, taking on an unpaid internship is a financial impossibility.

Numbers gathered by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, or NACE, show that 60 percent of paid internships result in job offers, while only 37 percent of students with unpaid internships are offered jobs. Students who participate in paid internships while in college are more likely to get jobs in their field following graduation. So why are unpaid internships still so prevalent?

Graphic design senior Roland Parker said he turned down a number of unpaid internships for one that was paid. He spent the summer working for Young & Rubicam in New York City as an art director for the ad agency’s creative department. During his time there, he worked on developing ideas and drawing storyboards for ad campaigns. He got paid $10 an hour.

Roland Parker spoke about his internship experience at Highland Coffees.

Roland Parker spoke about his experiences with unpaid internships at Highland Coffees.

“I’ve turned down a few [internships],” Parker said. “One of them was really hard to do because one of them was The Onion, actually. It was unpaid. I don’t have money to go live in Chicago and just support myself to work for a company that I would love to, even with the prestige.”

For Parker, it’s a matter of self-worth. He said he feels strongly that students should get paid for work they do during internships. Parker suggests that companies should differentiate between job shadowing and interning and adjust payment accordingly.

“People are doing hard-earned work,” he said. “Why should they not get paid?”

Parker and Monaghan speak highly of their internships. Parker worked on print ads for Colgate at Y&R, while Monaghan learned about public relations through working at a New Orleans-based event company. Both agree that making connections within their fields was invaluable.

Yet, both also agree that good work merits pay, especially for Monaghan, who trekked back and forth from Baton Rouge, La. to New Orleans for most of the summer.

“If you do good work, you can demand to get paid for it,” Monaghan said. “If you’re going to go into an internship and fucking kick ass, you should get paid for it.”

Many students across the United States agree with this sentiment and have taken legal action against companies who abuse interns. Stories of interns suing companies that exploited them have been cropping up in the media in the past few years.

More recently, two former Condé Nast interns sued the media conglomerate for backpay. As a result, the company ended its internship program.

While some interns may face exploitation, students still take on internships, often at the behest of career counselors and professors.

Kayla Kucharchuk, Experiential Education advisor at LSU’s Career Services, said that students benefit immeasurably from internships, paid or unpaid.

She spoke of the importance of internships in general for students who want to get ahead in their field while still in college. However, Kucharchuk acknowledges that for some, unpaid internships may not be within their budgets. LSU Career Services is working to amend that.

“Whenever employers come to us and want to create an internship opportunity, we try to suggest to them how to in whatever way possible at least have a stipend that would be equivalent to minimum wage because it’s tough for students,” she said.

Kucharchuk noted that while students may be “pinching pennies” to afford unpaid internships, the experiences they gain are priceless.

“It’s an opportunity cost, essentially,” she said. “If the student’s not participating in that unpaid internship, then they limit themselves to having higher pay once they do graduate because they have experiences directly related to their fields.”

Kucharchuk said that when it comes to unpaid internships, students need to sit in the driver’s seat. To avoid exploitation, students can work with Career Services or their internship supervisors to make the best of their experience. Further, she said, there are laws in place to safeguard against abuse.

“The Department of Labor did put out six stipulations to try to protect students from some of these larger companies offering these types of opportunities,” she said. “I think within the press we’ve seen some advancements in the students’ favor.”

The Department of Labor outlines six guidelines that internships must follow to be defined as such. The internship must be similar to training that a student would receive in an educational environment. It must be for the benefit of the intern. An intern must not replace existing staff, but work under their close supervision. The employer should get no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern. The intern is not guaranteed a job following the internship. And last, the employer and the intern agree that the intern is not entitled to payment for their time spent interning.

In many cases, one or more of these guidelines is not met by internship programs as shown in cases like Condé Nast along with others like Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film distribution company recently lost a case in which interns sued for backpay and won after working on the set of “Black Swan” unpaid. Courts are beginning to uphold the laws on the books.

For some, like Monaghan, more regulation of internships could mean payment for the three out of six jobs she currently works without pay. As for Parker, he is one of many who have chosen to stand up to a practice that is often likened to indentured servitude.

Positive changes may be on the horizon for LSU students. Career Services hopes to work with development teams across campus to offer some type of scholarship to help students offset the cost of unpaid internships, Kucharchuk said.

For many, that may not be enough. An unpaid internship, however promising, is not in the cards for those financially struggling.

“People who have those dreams and can’t afford them, that’s the most terrible thing I’ve ever heard,” Monaghan said. “It’s the most terrible thing to tell early college students, especially ones that have bright and bold futures. Usually the ones who are most creative are the ones that can’t afford it. It’s the most unfortunate thing.”

Parker echoed the sentiment.

“I think that either way, paid or unpaid, you probably have the same prospects of getting a job in the future, which is why I sort of see unpaid as slave labor almost,” Parker said. “It’s kind of something that makes me feel a lot of our generation is being taken advantage of.”


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