To the Editor of the New York Times, re “Sunday Dialogue: The Value of Internships”

To the Editor:
Re “Sunday Dialogue: The Value of Internships” (pSR2, May 20):

An internship’s ability, as Ilene Starger states, to “greatly expand one’s knowledge, experience, contact base and chances of future career success” isn’t impeded when it comes with a paycheck, just as the law requires.

By focusing so narrowly on how an internship can serve as a transition from school to career for a privileged few, anecdote-based arguments such as Ms. Starger’s fail to take a full measure of the effect this practice is having on the working lives of tens of thousands of workers, including non-interns, all while employers reap the rewards of free labor (an estimated $2 billion in unpaid wages per year). Furthermore, with unpaid internships now firmly established in the labor market and unemployment soaring, the looming presence of this pool of free labor puts downward pressure on the wages of paid employees and freelancers. The effects spread up the career ladder and across the economy, benefiting few and harming many.

Ms. Starger claims to feel empathy for college students entering this job market but offers no solutions, only oversimplified excuses for a practice that compounds their plight. Similarly, she offers no succor to those who cannot afford to work for free but seek the same opportunities, to those who must compete with interns for what once were paid positions, nor to those feeling their wages squeezed by the presence of unpaid workers in the labor market. And for those who don’t happen to luck into a big break through an internship (or three or five…), that they’ve given away their labor to profit someone else appears to be equally of no concern.

We are artists and art workers who have experienced firsthand the detrimental effects of this culture of free labor. And in this era of historic inequality, class divide, skyrocketing student debt and intractable unemployment, we call for an end to this opportunistic and exploitative practice: Pay your interns.

OWS Arts & Labor
A working group founded in conjunction with the New York General Assembly for #occupywallstreet

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