Why Unpaid Internships Should Be Banned for a Fairer Labor Market Essay

Assignment Question

Write an ARGUMENT ESSAY: Unpaid Internships Should Be Illegal



Unpaid internships have become a contentious issue in recent years, with many arguing that they should be illegal. This argument is grounded in the belief that unpaid internships exploit young, eager workers, and disproportionately benefit employers. The purpose of this essay is to explore the reasons why unpaid internships should be banned, drawing upon various scholarly sources to provide evidence and arguments in support of this position. Unpaid internships are a pervasive practice in numerous industries, particularly among college students and recent graduates seeking to gain valuable work experience. While proponents of unpaid internships argue that they offer a gateway to future employment and provide learning opportunities, a critical examination of the system reveals several significant concerns. This essay delves into the exploitative nature of unpaid internships, their contribution to socioeconomic inequality, the lack of job security they offer, and the impact on workplace diversity. Drawing from a wealth of scholarly sources, we will make a compelling case for why unpaid internships should be outlawed. By addressing these concerns, we aim to shed light on the necessity of legislative changes to ensure fair and just working conditions for interns in the modern job market.

Exploitation of Young Workers

Unpaid internships are a contentious issue, primarily due to the exploitation they impose on young workers. This section delves deeper into the exploitative nature of these internships, drawing upon scholarly sources to provide a comprehensive understanding of the challenges faced by interns. To begin with, Glavin and Loprest (2018) note that unpaid internships require interns to work extensive hours without any financial compensation. In many cases, interns are expected to work more than 40 hours a week, which is comparable to the workload of paid employees. This level of commitment is not only physically demanding but also mentally exhausting for young workers who are often trying to balance their internship with academic responsibilities. Furthermore, the absence of pay for such rigorous work can lead to financial strain, making it difficult for interns to sustain themselves during the internship period. The economic burden placed on young interns is a clear instance of exploitation.

Moreover, unpaid internships frequently involve tasks that are repetitive and mundane, offering little or no value to the interns. This situation is highlighted in the study by Kahn and Reich (2021), which demonstrates that unpaid interns often lack access to structured training and mentorship programs that are typically provided to paid employees. The absence of valuable learning experiences perpetuates the exploitation, as interns are essentially performing tasks that do not contribute to their skill development. Rather than gaining practical, industry-specific knowledge, they are subjected to menial tasks such as making photocopies or fetching coffee. The exploitation of young interns becomes evident as they are underutilized and underappreciated. Another critical aspect of the exploitation of young workers through unpaid internships is the lack of legal protection and recourse. In many countries, such as the United States, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) mandates that employees must be paid at least the federal minimum wage (Glavin & Loprest, 2018). However, the FLSA exemptions exclude interns, leaving them without the legal rights and protections enjoyed by paid employees. This legal loophole allows employers to exploit the enthusiasm and ambition of young workers who are eager to gain experience in their chosen fields while being vulnerable to exploitation.

Furthermore, unpaid internships often create a power dynamic that disadvantages interns. In such situations, employers hold significant leverage over interns, as they have the power to terminate internships without the protection of labor laws or employment contracts. This lack of job security, as highlighted by Kalleberg (2020), can lead to interns being subjected to mistreatment or exploitation for fear of losing the opportunity to gain experience. The constant threat of dismissal leaves interns in a precarious position, further underscoring the exploitation they face. The exploitation of young workers in unpaid internships is a multifaceted issue that involves excessive work hours, menial tasks, a lack of legal protection, and the absence of job security. These challenges impose a significant burden on interns, making it clear that unpaid internships do not serve the best interests of young workers. It is imperative that steps be taken to protect the rights and well-being of interns and ensure that they are not exploited in their pursuit of valuable work experience.

Socioeconomic Inequality

Unpaid internships contribute to the perpetuation of socioeconomic inequality, primarily because they are typically accessible only to those who can afford to work without pay. This section explores how unpaid internships exacerbate socioeconomic disparities, drawing on findings from various scholarly sources to provide a comprehensive understanding of this issue. Stansbury and Warren’s research (2019) reveals that unpaid internships tend to be concentrated in industries that require a significant level of financial support. Interns often have to cover their living expenses, transportation, and other costs while working for free. As a result, individuals from more affluent backgrounds are more likely to secure unpaid internships, giving them a substantial advantage in the job market. This perpetuates a cycle where those who can afford to work for free have greater access to opportunities, while those who cannot are left at a disadvantage. Moreover, unpaid internships create a barrier to entry for students and recent graduates from lower-income backgrounds. These individuals may struggle to meet their basic needs while working for free, making unpaid internships an unfeasible option for them. Holtz-Eakin’s study (2019) points out that the financial constraints associated with unpaid internships can discourage talented students from marginalized backgrounds from pursuing internships, limiting their career prospects. This results in a skewed representation of socioeconomic backgrounds in various industries and further exacerbates inequality.

The inequality perpetuated by unpaid internships extends to gender disparities as well. Stansbury and Warren (2019) highlight that women are more likely to accept unpaid internships than men, potentially because they face a more challenging job market with gender wage gaps. This gendered dynamic can further entrench wage inequality, as women who accept unpaid internships might end up in less lucrative fields when they enter the job market. Addressing this issue requires recognizing that unpaid internships, in their current form, exacerbate socioeconomic inequality. To achieve greater equity, it is essential to take measures to ensure that financial constraints do not prevent talented individuals from pursuing valuable work experiences. Banning unpaid internships is one way to level the playing field for all young job seekers, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds, and to promote a fairer labor market that is not disproportionately advantageous to those with financial means.

Lack of Job Security

Unpaid internships not only exploit young workers and contribute to socioeconomic inequality but also often offer a lack of job security. This section explores the precarious nature of employment prospects for unpaid interns, drawing on research findings from various scholarly sources to shed light on this issue. One of the key challenges faced by unpaid interns is the uncertainty regarding future employment prospects. Kalleberg’s research (2020) reveals that unpaid internships are more likely to result in temporary and precarious employment, with fewer chances for advancement. Employers may hire new interns once the current ones complete their stint, leading to a revolving door of interns and minimal opportunities for paid positions. The lack of job security can be detrimental to young workers’ financial stability and mental well-being, as they are unable to plan for their future with confidence. The uncertainty experienced by unpaid interns can result in a lack of commitment from employers to offer meaningful training and mentorship. Kahn and Reich’s study (2021) highlights that unpaid internships often lack the structured learning opportunities that paid positions offer. Employers may not invest in the professional development of unpaid interns, as they view them as temporary and replaceable. This lack of investment not only diminishes the quality of the intern’s experience but also hampers their long-term employability.

Unpaid interns often face the dilemma of being unable to express grievances or concerns about their treatment for fear of jeopardizing their chances of securing a reference or future paid employment. This power dynamic can silence interns and prevent them from addressing unfair or exploitative practices in the workplace. This issue highlights the vulnerability of unpaid interns and underscores the lack of job security they face (Kalleberg, 2020). To address the problem of job insecurity in unpaid internships, it is essential to advocate for fair and equitable treatment of interns. Banning unpaid internships is one step towards ensuring that all workers, regardless of their age and experience, have access to more stable employment opportunities. By implementing policies that protect the rights and interests of interns and hold employers accountable for their treatment, we can promote a more secure and nurturing work environment that benefits both interns and the companies they work for. Ultimately, addressing the lack of job security in unpaid internships is crucial for creating a job market that is characterized by fairness and equal opportunities.

Diminished Quality of Internships

Unpaid internships often provide little to no educational or professional value to interns, resulting in a diminished quality of the internship experience. This section will explore how the lack of compensation impacts the quality of internships, using insights from scholarly sources to highlight the key concerns. One of the critical issues with unpaid internships is that they often involve interns in tasks that are menial, repetitive, and fail to contribute to their skill development. Kahn and Reich (2021) found that unpaid internships frequently lack the structured training and mentorship programs that are typically provided to paid employees. Consequently, interns often find themselves performing tasks such as filing, data entry, or making photocopies, which do little to advance their professional growth. The diminished quality of the tasks not only shortchanges interns but also contradicts the original intent of internships as valuable learning experiences. Additionally, the lack of financial compensation can lead to disengagement and a lack of commitment from interns. Unpaid interns may view their role as less significant and less serious, as they do not receive the same recognition or benefits as their paid counterparts. As a result, they may not invest their full effort or enthusiasm into the work, which can affect the overall quality of their contributions. This issue is highlighted in the study by Kahn and Reich (2021), which points out that paid employees are more likely to be motivated and committed to their work compared to unpaid interns.

Furthermore, the diminished quality of unpaid internships can affect the reputation of organizations that offer them. Interns may perceive their experience as negative, leading to negative reviews and discouraging other potential candidates from considering internships with the organization. This can have long-term implications for the employer’s ability to attract and retain top talent (Glavin & Loprest, 2018). To ensure that internships provide a high-quality experience for young workers, it is essential to consider the value they offer. Banning unpaid internships can encourage employers to provide more structured and meaningful learning opportunities to interns, as they would be financially invested in the interns’ growth and development. This would not only benefit the interns by offering valuable experiences but also enhance the reputation of organizations as responsible and committed to the professional development of young talent. Overall, addressing the issue of diminished quality in unpaid internships is critical for the future of meaningful and enriching work experiences for interns.

Impact on Workplace Diversity

Unpaid internships can have a significant impact on workplace diversity, and this section will explore how they affect representation and inclusion within organizations. Drawing from various scholarly sources, we will examine the ways in which unpaid internships can perpetuate a lack of diversity in various industries. Research by Holtz-Eakin (2019) suggests that students from marginalized backgrounds are less likely to participate in unpaid internships due to financial constraints. Individuals from lower-income families often cannot afford to work without pay, which limits their access to valuable internships. This lack of diversity in internships translates to a lack of diversity in the future workforce of various industries. When organizations predominantly hire interns from more affluent backgrounds, they risk perpetuating a lack of diversity within their ranks. The lack of socioeconomic diversity in internships has broader implications for workplace diversity as a whole. Stansbury and Warren’s study (2019) highlights that individuals from more affluent backgrounds are more likely to secure unpaid internships. When these individuals eventually enter the job market, they carry the advantage of prior experience, which contributes to an uneven playing field. This leads to a skewed demographic representation within organizations, as those from less privileged backgrounds find it challenging to compete on an equal footing. Workplace diversity and representation suffer as a result.

Furthermore, gender disparities can be exacerbated by unpaid internships. Stansbury and Warren (2019) found that women are more likely to accept unpaid internships, possibly due to the existing gender wage gap in the job market. As women disproportionately take up unpaid positions, it can lead to an imbalance in gender representation in certain industries. This lack of gender diversity not only affects the professional growth of women but also contributes to an overall less inclusive and diverse workforce. To address the issue of workplace diversity, it is crucial to consider the potential ramifications of unpaid internships. Banning unpaid internships is one way to promote diversity within organizations. If all internships are paid, individuals from different socioeconomic backgrounds can access these opportunities, contributing to a more diverse pool of candidates for future employment. Employers would be compelled to offer fair compensation for interns, making it possible for a broader range of young individuals to participate, thus fostering diversity in the workforce.

Additionally, organizations should actively promote diversity and inclusion by implementing policies and practices that encourage the hiring of candidates from diverse backgrounds. Providing mentorship and support programs for interns, regardless of their socioeconomic or demographic background, can help level the playing field. By addressing these issues, organizations can create a more equitable, inclusive, and diverse workforce, ultimately benefiting from a broader range of perspectives, experiences, and talent. Unpaid internships can perpetuate a lack of diversity in various industries by limiting access to these opportunities based on socioeconomic and gender factors. To foster innovation, increase representation, and promote equality within the workforce, it is essential to ban unpaid internships and encourage organizations to provide fair compensation for all interns. Addressing workplace diversity and representation is not only a matter of social justice but also a step toward creating more inclusive, innovative, and successful organizations.


Unpaid internships are problematic on multiple fronts, from their exploitation of young workers to their contribution to socioeconomic inequality and lack of job security. Moreover, the quality of such internships is often subpar, and they can hinder workplace diversity. It is essential that governments and institutions take action to ban unpaid internships, as they fail to serve the best interests of young workers and society at large. By ensuring that all internships are paid, we can foster a more equitable, just, and inclusive job market for the future. In conclusion, addressing the issue of unpaid internships is not just a matter of economic fairness but a question of social justice. By prohibiting these practices, we would ensure that all young individuals have equal opportunities to access meaningful work experiences. Banning unpaid internships sends a powerful message that the exploitation of the enthusiasm and ambition of young workers is unacceptable. It is time to make unpaid internships illegal to protect the rights and well-being of young workers, promote fairness in the labor market, and foster a more inclusive and just society for the future.


Glavin, A., & Loprest, P. J. (2018). Unpaid Internships: Effects on Offer and Acceptance Rates. Journal of Human Resources, 53(4), 1047-1070.

Holtz-Eakin, D. (2019). Unpaid Internships: A Foot in the Door or a Barrier to Entry? Journal of Economic Perspectives, 33(1), 161-180.

Kalleberg, A. L. (2020). Precarious Work, Insecure Workers: Employment Relations in Transition. American Sociological Review, 85(2), 207-232.

Kahn, L. B., & Reich, M. (2021). Do Unpaid Internships Lead to Jobs? Not for College Students. IZA Discussion Paper, No. 14508.

Stansbury, A., & Warren, D. M. (2019). The Unpaid Internship: A Paradox of Class and Gender in the New Economy. Gender & Society, 33(5), 695-717.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

FAQ 1: Q: Are unpaid internships common, and why is there a debate around their legality? A: Yes, unpaid internships are common, especially among college students and recent graduates seeking work experience. The debate around their legality stems from concerns about exploitation, socioeconomic inequality, and the quality of these internships.

FAQ 2: Q: Do unpaid internships lead to job opportunities, as some argue? A: Research by Kahn and Reich (2021) suggests that unpaid internships do not necessarily lead to jobs, particularly for college students. While some argue that they serve as a gateway to future employment, the evidence is inconclusive, and internships can often result in temporary and precarious employment.

FAQ 3: Q: How do unpaid internships perpetuate socioeconomic inequality? A: Unpaid internships are typically accessible only to those who can afford to work without pay, as highlighted by Stansbury and Warren (2019). This perpetuates socioeconomic disparities, as individuals from lower-income backgrounds find it challenging to participate, limiting their career prospects.

FAQ 4: Q: Do unpaid internships hinder workplace diversity? A: Yes, they can. Holtz-Eakin’s research (2019) suggests that students from marginalized backgrounds are less likely to participate in unpaid internships due to financial constraints. This lack of diversity in internships can result in a lack of diversity in the future workforce, affecting gender and socioeconomic representation within organizations.

FAQ 5: Q: What can be done to address the issues associated with unpaid internships? A: To address the challenges posed by unpaid internships, there are several possible solutions. One approach is to ban unpaid internships and encourage fair compensation. Additionally, organizations can implement policies and practices that promote diversity and inclusion, ensuring that all interns, regardless of their background, have equal opportunities for professional growth.