“The unpaid internship offers no advantage to the job-seeking student, because they are often nothing more than free labor.”
So where is the data to back it up this statement?
Well, finding data to support this assertions can be challenging because few, if any, have really tried to collect data on this topic. Try searching for U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Internships, and you will find is where to send your application for an internship with the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So, until proper studies are performed, we are stuck with trying to make inferences of causation from data that shows correlation.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers stated in their 2011 Student Survey, “Unfortunately, no one has tracked the number of unpaid internships on a national level over time.” However, their 2011 survey was the first time they asked students whether their internships were paid or unpaid, providing a good baseline for future analysis of unpaid internship. But the survey found that while paid internships at for-profit companies had the best chance of producing a full-time job offer, students with unpaid internships did worse in getting full-time job offers regardless of the type of organization with which they held the internship. Faced with the data they collected they had to try to explain why their data found that all of the unpaid internships, regardless of the sector in which they took place, were connected with a median salary offer below that which a student without any internship experience received. Ultimately, they find no definitive reason for why unpaid internships did not provide an advantage to students in offers or salary. Don’t believe me, then watch this video and hear them say it.
National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Class of 2011 Student Survey Report also found, for some unknown reason, that unpaid interns did worse than students without any internship experience in terms of starting salary offers.
Ultimately, they conclude that the advantage interns have in terms of commanding salary fades quickly if their internship experience was of the unpaid variety.
So what other data is out there? A search of job trends on the website Indeed.com (a website that aggregates other job listing websites) shows that as unemployment started to rise in 2008, the number of job postings for unpaid internships rose.
In the graph above, I also pointed out when the Department of Labor published Fact Sheet #71 (detailing when interns must be paid), and when other prominent news articles covering the legality of unpaid internships were published. A distinct short-term drop can be seen after each one.
A search of the postings on Internships.com showed that around 75% of all internships posted were unpaid. In NYC and LA, 4939 out of 6287 of the ads posted, or 78.5%, were unpaid internships (on 2/20/12).
Furthermore, according to InternBridge.com, a large consulting company, conducted research on internships and found that 18 percent of over 12,000 student interns surveyed were both unpaid and received no credit. And of the students that received college credit for their internship, 71 percent had to pay for those credits.
So, while we will all have to wait until definitive studies are performed, speaking with unpaid interns, looking at the data that is out there, and using some common sense should lead us to conclude that there exists a justifiable foundation to the statement “The unpaid internship offers no advantage to the job-seeking student”.