Ross Perlin’s Intern Nation explores the internship phenomenon

The first book-length examination of the sociological, economic, educational, and legal aspects of internships, Ross Perlin’s Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy (2011), has been published by Verso.

This is a badly needed book. As Perlin writes, internships are “a new and distinctive form, located at the nexus of transformations in higher education and the workplace.” During the past few decades, internships have become a virtual requirement for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in many fields. Perlin estimates that “between 1 and 2 million people participate in internships each year in the U.S.”

In other words, we’re talking about a practice that involves a lot of people, mostly younger folks readying themselves for entry into a profession.

“Intern Bill of Rights”

In an Appendix, Perlin sets out his “Intern Bill of Rights,” a statement of nine provisions concerning compensation, fair treatment, legal protections, and personal dignity. It’s an excellent starting place for developing best practices and sound public policies covering interns.

“A Lawsuit Waiting to Happen”

Unfortunately, many interns are unpaid — as I have written, often in apparent violation of minimum wage laws. Perlin takes this thread and builds it into a chapter examining the many legal implications of internships.

Perlin makes special note of situations involving sexual harassment of unpaid student interns. He concludes, “This is the part you didn’t know; when something does happen, unpaid interns are largely on their own, without protection or recourse, caught in a frightening legal limbo.”

We concur!

I raised many of these legal concerns in my 2002 law review article, “The Employment Law Rights of Student Interns,” which Perlin graciously cites as the “best single source of information for American internships and the law.” You can download a free copy here.

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Related posts

On the practice and legality of unpaid internships

News flash! Unpaid internships may be illegal

The legality and ethics of unpaid internships

5 responses

  1. Timely article for my faMily. My daughter will embark upon her first internship in a week. Fortunately, she is participating in a paid program through the USDOT. I work at one Administration and she will intern in another. I am fortunate that I will be there to monitor the situation. However, i remember well my severL Internships. In one case, there was a lot of flirting and sexuL innuendo going on. It made me feel very uncomfortable, and I didn’t have anyone to go to to talk about it. Iwasvery glad when the 6 weeks was up and I completed it. I think this is a very timely post as interns will be starting their summer assignments over the next couple of weeks. Thank you!

    • Kim, I’m glad you found the article helpful. And I hope your daughter has a positive internship experience that is nothing like the concerns expressed in the book!

  2. As I take my gradutate course in economics, topics from this site often come to mind in my reading or during lectures (a recent study on GDP increase and its impact on wages is something I’ve wanted to send). My own pet theory is that or economic history is one of growth based on the acquisition of “free” resources: land, labor, and that we are struggling to find a way to successfully disentangle our economic traditions from this and mantain prosperity. With this last post I’m left to think: so here we go again. Are there any economists study the phenomenon of the topis discussed here? Is there a need for any?

  3. My daughter recently accepted an unpaid internship for a small internet company in NYC. She was told that she would work 4 hours daily four days a week, so that she would have time for other paid employment to assist with living expenses. Her duties and opportunities for learning/developing skills in social media for the company were clearly defined at the interview. After 3 days on the job she discovered that the individual who hired her and would essentially be her mentor, was leaving the company. She also learned that he would not be replaced and that her new title is Director of Marketing! The CEO of the company called her into his office and laid out a detailed list of duties and essentially expects a 45 hour work week, all for a weekly stipend of $75.00. She is of course very upset; she is finding it difficult to find paid employment with her limited availability. She requested further compensation for her work considering the increase in hours and responsibility and was flatly refused My feeling is that this illegal and must be in violation of minimum wage laws. Can anyone comment on this?

    • Karen, for practical and ethical reasons we don’t provide legal advice on this blog, but you might contact the New York State Department of Labor with your inquiry.

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