The common complaint about a broad proliferation of internships popping up in the marketplace is this: companies are abusing a practice, traditionally used out of financial necessity or for educational purposes, in order to create a tier of temporarily unpaid labor. A problem, indeed. Yet the more insidious issue with this issue is the imbalance of opportunity it perpetuates. It stands to reason that people with existing means of self support will be more eligible for these audition positions than people who cannot survive for an extended duration without compensation for their work. Some people, who may be very talented and diligent but who also lack advantage, will thereby fall to greater disadvantage. Others, who possess resources, will accumulate additional resources and agency. Let me simplify: money biases opportunity; opportunity generates money.
I don’t fault the upper-middle-well-off-affluent-people-of-plenty who want to work and are willing to do it for naught but experience in the short term. The opportunity is there, and if it’s the right place and the right vocation and might be fun to do, why should someone turn it down? Just because someone approaches the upper end on the spectrum of material wealth doesn’t justify depriving that person of a chance to work. Good fortune ought not disqualify someone from earning. Just as it shouldn’t omit them from loving, suffering, learning, triumphing, or failing. Empathy is the product of effort given from the hands as well as the heart. And right now empathy between classes in this country is in severely short supply. Ensuring systematically that the haves can while the have-nots can’t will only serve to sharpen the lines that divide us.
Look. Just pay people for their work. Be fair and even generous. Don’t abuse the high unemployment rate. Don’t cultivate a meta-social atmosphere of desperation and resentment. And mostly, don’t pretend you’re a non-profit organization strapped for cash, or that everyone who wants to work for you is receiving compensation from a passionate desire to fulfill a higher calling. Hopefully they are, and you should seek those people out. Not because you can pay them less for more work, but because they will attend to tasks with aspirations towards extreme quality. But even those people need to eat and play, and many of them can’t do that without a paying job.