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.
Actual measurements are lacking, but with recent college graduates suffering the worst unemployment rates in 50 years I don’t doubt this trend is real.
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.”
The new “culture of internships” seems strongest in the media field, although high-tech start-ups also draw in workers willing to work for little or no pay.
While many young college graduates accept the meager opportunities because they are grateful for any chance to work in their chosen field, there is a revolt underway among a small contingent of dissatisfied workers.
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.)
But some desperate millenials still prefer internships over less “meaningful” employment.
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.”
Many of these “permaterms“ have no choice but to continue living at home.