Would You Buy Your Kid an Internship at Vogue?

Michael Calderone at Yahoo reports someone out there just paid $42,500 for an opportunity to spend a few weeks interning at Vogue this summer.  Others dropped serious money for unpaid employment opportunities with the Huffington Post, Vanity Fair, Esquire, and Black Enterprise. All these gigs come with no paycheck.

This is disgusting on so many levels I don’t even know where to begin.

First, this takes helicopter parenting to a new high or low, as the case may be. Buying your kids an internship goes way beyond the already heinous trend of moms and dads filling out college applications and assisting their progeny with job salary negotiations. I don’t care how good your intentions are. You are essentially telling your child I so don’t trust you to get a good position on your own, I will pay someone to take you on.  What’s next? Accompanying them to the gig, in order to make sure they don’t serve Anna Wintour her coffee with too much or too little cream?

Second, the pay-to-intern plan takes the entire intern industrial complex to new levels. There have been complaints for years that these unpaid job opportunities, no matter how well-intentioned, exacerbate the already dismal politics of rich and poor in this country, allowing the children of the upper middle class to take professionally oriented but non-lucrative internships that will permit them to burnish their resumes and meet people who can help them in the future, while their less well-off peers have to take well, you know, jobs that might actually pay a bill or two, like summer camp counselor, lifeguard or burger flipper at McDonalds.

Defenders of the pay-to-work-for-free arrangement point out that Vogue isn’t actually making money on the deal, but that they and the other publications are giving the internships to charities, which auction off the gigs for their own fundraising purposes.  Unfortunately, this defense ignores the fact that several for-profit organizations, smelling an opportunity to make a few bucks off of helicopter parent desperation, have sprung up in recent years, offering to place students in unpaid internships in exchange, of course, for thousands of dollars in fees.

Mercifully, this ghastly trend might soon to come to a well-deserved end, courtesy of the Obama administration. Apparently, the law says unpaid internships actually have to be job training opportunities, and not simply a fancy way of saying “unpaid menial personal assistant.” Moreover, unpaid interns can’t actually replace a paid worker either. In other words, the vast majority of  internships are in violation of minimum wage laws and the federal Labor Department is not happy.

In the meantime, however, the opportunities are still out there. Barnard College is currently auctioning off unpaid job opportunities with Shape Magazine, Perseus Books and event planning company Buckley Hall Events. You better act quick if you are interested; the auction ends tomorrow if the Feds don’t get there first, that is.

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