The capitalist economic enterprise known as the United States was built off of free labor. In 1938 the Fair Labor Standards Act was implemented to prevent companies from exploiting individuals for industry benefit. The new slaves are not in the heart of Mississippi, but can be found in major corporations working long hours with no paycheck to show for it at the end of the week. These slaves go by the new names of “entry-level employees” or “interns.”
The topic of unpaid work is controversial. Forbes recently outlined why you should never work for free. The writer makes a valid point, arguing that you are helping the company make money and with student loan debt at an all-time high, you can’t afford to not get paid. The New York Times gives examples of cases where interns are taking a stand against companies and have gone as far as filing suits for being exploited during an unpaid internship.
The fashion industry is depicted on television as one filled with thankless, low-paid jobs for entry-level workers. Most times, the female character is supported by rich parents or a wealthy husband and doesn’t really need the income. You may remember watching Lauren Conrad carting around designer clothes during her fabulous summer internship at Teen Vogue on The Hills. It has been reported that over three-fourths of the unpaid workforce are women and, in real life, many of them don’t have a large amount of financial support. They go without pay at the expense of their quality of life.
We also hear a lot in mainstream media about video girls and models working for free for the benefit of being in the latest rap video, allowing the industry to marginalize models that demand a check. Also, there are debates about immigrants working for below minimum wage and taking jobs from able-bodied Americans. In any setting, unpaid work hurts the economy as potential job candidates run the very real risk of being replaced by unpaid workers. That can lead to increased unemployment and decreased household spending that could boost the economy.
On the other hand, unpaid work can give the eager intern an edge on the competition by allowing a newbie to the workforce the chance to build a work history in industries where they have no experience. There are a large number of college grads working for minimum wage, so it’s good to have a plan to set yourself apart from the rest. But are you willing to make a deal with the devil to do it?
Although we are in a recovering economy we still have the benefit of residing in a country with arguably the greatest opportunities in the world. If you work hard enough, you can find numerous companies willing to pay you for your expertise, or at least offer you minimum wage while you fetch coffee and build your resume.