There has been a flurry of discussion in the past three days about unpaid internships. The New York Times says it looks like unpaid internships have more than doubled in recent years, and the U.S. Department of Labor has issued a statement clarifying that if a business treat interns essentially as employees, as nearly all do, then the internships are not exempt from minimum wage laws. That is, according to the law, nearly all of those unpaid interns should be paid at least $7.25 per hour.
Employers have switched from employing illegal aliens to employing college students in illegal internships because the rules about illegal aliens have been more strictly enforced in the last two years or so, at the same time that many college students and recent college graduates have gone unemployed. If wage rules for internships are now to be enforced, though, it may not be the end of internships. Employers that are looking to keep costs to a minimum may have little alternative but to pay up. There is, after all, no less expensive pool of workers available. Interns put up with the meaningless work usually found in an internship because of its potential résumé value. With the job market as distressed as it is, that’s not likely to change just because the internship starts to pay a small amount of money.