The rise of unpaid internships and the fall of entry-level jobs is in the news again. This has been a growing problem for a long time, and it continues to rise due to a multitude of factors that include the recession, its aftermath, and the American Dream. As a millennial, I heavily identify with those who are going through the never-ending circle of internships. I know what it’s like to have a dream and want to give anything to achieve it. However, I also know what poverty feels like, and because of it, I can’t personally sacrifice my well-being for my artistic craft.
To sum up my experience quickly: my parents divorced when I was a kid. My mom lost her job during the recession. I got my first job at age 15 to become less of a financial burden. I worked as much as I could to financially sustain myself during my four years of college*, which sometimes meant consuming energy drinks both at work and school.
Due to my experiences as a young adult, I suppose I’ve become sort of frustrated with both sides of the field when it comes to unpaid internships. I suppose I’m sort of jaded at times, but also understand and acknowledge that unpaid internships can be very tempting when you have little to no experience. Many people feel like they can’t look past unpaid internships, and if this continues, they’ll be correct. Entry-level positions are drying up while mid to senior-level ones are growing. Employers aren’t training the next generation, but rather picking the crops dry.
I worked on my passions as a hobby until I found a good job that made me (mostly) happy, but it’s not that simple for everyone. I look at people who are willing to be homeless for a while as long as they’re honing their craft and I waver between admiration (because they can stand it) and sadness (because others will use them as an example). I’m sad that our country takes advantage of those who are willing to work without pay to achieve their dreams. Under my layers of frustration and uncertainty, I wish our society valued creativity more than it does.
At a certain time in my life, I applied to hundreds of paid internships and jobs and didn’t get a response. I know how much it hurts. For some, that happens consistently and over the span of a long time. I don’t have a magic trick that makes this terrible cycle go away. I don’t know how to stop those in positions of power who take advantage of hopeful dreams and expectations of creative, fruitful careers.
There are things we can try in order to solve this crisis. Those in power can and should stop making unpaid internships in order to empower the next generation. There is no capitalism without paying jobs. Young people can settle for a less amazing job that pays and work on building experience during their free time in order to reach their goals.** Know that your actions and choices affect other people, regardless of how insignificant you might feel. The more we allow employers to take advantage of us and devalue our time, the worse off our country will be.
Live long and prosper, my friends.
* By the time I was 17, my dad saved up money that allowed me to attend college without loans, for which I am eternally grateful. I have a few hilarious stories about commuting to and from school via the subway with massive art projects because I couldn’t afford a dorm room.
** I know this is hard to do in some fields, especially scientific ones. This mystifies me because we need the next generation of teachers. The state of teaching is a gigantic sphere of endless rage.