Will work for experience

Unpaid internships are valuable, common and potentially illegal.

As summer approaches, many studentsâÄô minds turn to finding work, whether they are graduating or not. Many will find interesting work, but be asked to do it for free. While itâÄôs true that unpaid internships often provide non-monetary compensation in the form of references and on-the-job experience, they can also cross the line into exploitation âÄî especially in an economy where paid employees face cuts. The New York Times reported last week that the U.S. Department of Labor is beginning to look deeper into the legality of increasingly common unpaid internships. Although they say the numbers are hard to nail down, students complete hundreds of thousands of internships each year, and up to half of those are unpaid. For purposes of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, interns are classified as âÄútrainees.âÄù In order for unpaid internships to be legal, they must be âÄúfor the benefit of the traineesâÄù while providing âÄúno immediate advantageâÄù to employers. ItâÄôs supposed to be a benevolent, educational arrangement. In explicit response to the Times report and in a fascinating twist, the publisher of The Atlantic Monthly has now announced that it will pay all its interns âÄî including last yearâÄôs, retroactively. Atlantic Media CompanyâÄôs announcement said of the potential illegality of unpaid internships, âÄúIf it sits near a gray zone, itâÄôs not for us.âÄù Certainly, not all past or prospective interns will be so lucky, but AtlanticâÄôs decision could be a sign of a change in the weather. Perhaps naturally, the âÄúlowly internâÄù is a recurring meme and even a running joke in popular culture, yet students have reason to take internships seriously. Even the lowly intern has rights.