But there is a reason that [the fashion and magazine] industries are notoriously difficult to start a career in: their sectors are not performing well. The U.S. fashion sector has faced massive layoffs–up to 80% in some parts of the industry–since 1996. And the publishing industry is hardly doing better. Magazine circulation and advertising revenue is nosediving. In fact, employment of writers and authors is projected to grow only 3% from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all other occupations.
By no means will an unpaid internship guarantee students a career upon completion. In most sectors where unpaid internships abound, it’s because there simply aren’t enough jobs to go around.
New laws have been introduced to define what is and isn’t a legal internship, but those laws are hardly going to change the mass availability of unpaid internships. For one, students are so desperate for “work experience” that they are willing to participate in unpaid internships without whistleblowing–and most interns are so acutely aware of the intern blacklist that they wouldn’t dream of suing anyway.
Outlawing unpaid internships won’t solve the simple problem of supply and demand. Students looking for paid work after graduation would be well served to overlook industries where unpaid internships abound, and set their sites on careers with high demand and low supply of labor.
But for those who choose to volunteer their time at an unpaid internship, don’t call it slave labor. Sure, unpaid internships are voluntary, classist, and unnecessary. That doesn’t change that they are voluntary.
Students, as you finish up your applications for this summer’s internship programs, remember: you are better off getting paid. You are worth more than chronic volunteer work. Don’t fall for the unpaid internship trap. And if you’re considering taking an unpaid internship in fashion, journalism, or media, remember: your hard work will probably not pay off.