Opinion | Unpaid internships disenfranchise underprivileged populations

Most jobs require some type of experience, yet many college students can’t afford to gain work experience without getting paid.

Yassie Buchanan, Opinions Columnist

Most employers require some type of experience before hiring, which can be unfortunate for students who can’t afford an unpaid internship.

As summer is approaching and most students are finalizing plans or scrambling to find some, we should shine a light on the importance of allowing students to gain valuable work experience while being paid for the work they put in.

Research has shown we are currently experiencing one of the worst lows in the job market in the history of the country, with Black and Hispanic women seeing particularly large rates of unemployment. This makes it all the more important to give students ample and accessible internship opportunities to prepare for their futures.

This inaccessibility of paid internships ostracizes a lot of capable students from gaining experience in the fields they are interested in.

Having internship experience can lead to an increase in job prospects as well as higher pay, research shows. According to another study, college students who had an internship were 15 percent more likely to avoid experiencing unemployment. However, according to research taken in May of last year, close to 43 percent of internships were unpaid.

With the pandemic continuing to loom over our heads, it has become challenging for people to find jobs in general.

Obviously, everyone is struggling through the pandemic. However, more than just privileged college students deserve the opportunity to gain experience in the workforce. Not providing compensation in internships disenfranchises underprivileged students from gaining experience, which is especially impactful in a world where that is a requirement for most jobs.

With there already being large amounts of people left unemployed from the pandemic, the need to provide college students with paid internships is all the more necessary. Although everyone is taking monetary hits from the pandemic, including many employers and businesses, it is unreasonable to ask students to volunteer their time and skills without compensation.

Nina Norton is a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Iowa majoring in human resource management, minoring in Chinese, and getting a certificate in international business.

Norton has had a paid internship with AutoZone throughout this semester doing diversity, equity, and inclusion work. Over the summer she will be holding a similar position as a paid intern in DEI with the company Athene. For Norton, there was no way she would be able to work in these positions if they were unpaid.

“I would not have been able to do either internship if they were unpaid. I got pretty lucky with DEI work because most of the other HR intern positions I saw were either unpaid or underpaid,” Norton said.

Many students like Norton are unlikely to be able to take advantage of these opportunities due to them being either unpaid or highly underpaid. Kyle Rogers is an undergraduate third-year student studying health and human physiology. Like Norton, for Rogers there was no way to hold a position as an unpaid intern.

“There is no way I would be able to have an unpaid internship, the money I make in the summer allows me to have a lot more spendable income throughout the year,” Rogers said.

We should not be asking college students, many of whom are burdened with the costs of tuition, housing, and food insecurity, to volunteer their time and skills in hopes of that leading to a more secure future.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.