While Intern Wages Rise, So Do Unpaid Internships

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By Kodichi Nwankwo

Wages for interns continue to climb, as students pursuing a bachelor’s degree can now earn nearly $19 an hour.

At the same time, internships are becoming more of a necessity for graduates to ultimately land a full-time job.

The average hourly wage this summer for interns pursuing a bachelor’s degree is $18.73, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. That’s nearly a 16 percent increase in the last five years, according to the organization, which tracks data such as starting salaries and college recruitment.

Paid internships are becoming more common, and wages are increasing with the number of opportunities, Angelena Salvadge, research associate for NACE, told Bloomberg Law. Salvadge, who worked on the recently released internship report, said since the recessional dip in 2008, wages have been climbing. Intern pay is up 3.7 percent from last year, and the upward trend will likely continue, she said.

Some of the wage increase is due to employers willing to pay more in place of benefits, such as planned social activities and paid vacation time, the most common benefits offered to interns, Salvadge said Bloomberg Law. “We found that this year, a lot of benefits were decreasing even though the wages are increasing,” she said.

Internship Experience Essential

In addition to higher pay, graduates who land an internship may face better odds getting a job once that internship ends.

About six in 10 (61 percent) graduating seniors had an internship or co-op experience, according to NACE’s class of 2014 student survey report, the most recent available. And more than half (52 percent) of graduates who received job offers before graduation had an internship, according to the report.

Employers are looking for students with at least one internship, among other skills, Eva Kubu, interim executive director of the career services at Princeton University, told Bloomberg Law.

Students are looking to apply for internships in the summer before going into their sophomore year, Kubu said. Many students have had more than one internship by the time they start applying for full time jobs.

“Nearly 98 percent of our graduating class of 2017 participated in at least one summer work experience,” Kubu said, including internships, during their time at Princeton.

More Unpaid Internships This Year?

While paid interns are seeing more money per hour, unpaid internships aren’t going away.

New Labor Department guidelines updated in January make it easier for companies to have unpaid internships. Since then, Kubu said her university has seen a slight increase in the number of unpaid internships posted.

“We did see that about 31 percent of all the internships that were posted with us this year since that January change were unpaid, and that was compared to 26 percent last year,” she said.

Princeton offers funding programs help to their students.

“We are very fortunate at Princeton that there is a deep commitment to provide funding for students to have these exploration opportunities,” she said. As a result, Kubu said, 86 percent of the 2017 summer interns from Princeton received wages or funding, while 7 percent were unpaid.

Senate Measure Sets Tone?

Unpaid internships are also common on Capitol Hill.

But that may change, at least for some in the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee June 14 approved an internship fund of $5 million to help pay office interns.

Carlos Mark Vera, a former unpaid intern in Congress, who started the Pay Our Interns campaign group, says the Senate fund is just the beginning.

Vera said he started the campaign to assist low-income interns. The original goal for the measure was to get it passed in 2021, but “we are not complaining,” Vera told Bloomberg Law.

“The next step is to ensure that the House does the same thing by next fiscal year,” he said. And then “our goal is to go nationwide,” he said.

Paying interns is good for diversity, he said. Businesses will have a broad set of folks at the beginning of the pipeline and not just wealthy children whose parents can afford to have them in an unpaid internship. Minorities and low-income students will have equal opportunities to get paid while gaining experience.

Additionally, paying interns is good for businesses, he said. “That intern you are paying could be your next employee,” Vera said, “so don’t just see it as a two to three months expense, but see it as the next person in your company.”

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