Are Unpaid Internships Illegal

In the kind of DC progressive non-profit circles I work in, the problems with unpaid internships have normally been discussed in terms of the potential exclusion of students who don’t have rich parents from opportunities. That’s certainly one reason I’m glad CAP pays its interns and I hope it’s something donors will think about when they give to organizations in the future—groups that are given enough money to pay interns generally pay them, and groups that aren’t generally don’t.

But more recently, I have started to hear about some internships and fellowships and the like that sound an awful lot like straightforward efforts to evade existing wage laws. Steven Greenhouse takes a look at this and says there’s some cracking down under way at the Labor Department.

To an extent this reminds me of the never-ending minimum wage debate, where conservatives point to the theoretical argument for a reduction in employment and liberals point to the empirical evidence that this doesn’t happen. There are actually lots of ways to just skirt these rules (from using interns to employing family members to just breaking the law) and arguably within the range that the minimum wage actually varies you don’t see a decline in employment because people can just find loopholes.