As we enter a time of outrageous higher education costs, exacerbating student loan debt for recent graduates, and magnified income inequality between the top one percent and bottom 50 percent of Americans, unpaid internships need to be addressed before class and racial inequality is able to be fixed.
Many Americans are quick to assume that issues plaguing our job markets like growing entry level job requirements and growing student debt responsibility are the just the result of economic recession, and that these trends will certainly pass if we were just able to get our economy back on the right track. This is a false assumption to make. From a business standpoint, our economy is operating in a fine place right now by almost any partisan measure. It is the failings of our government to reform or regulate certain aspects in the process of obtaining higher education that are furthering the trend of growing student loan debt and shrinking graduate entry level opportunities.
The issue of failed government programs like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness must be addressed and reformed. The PSLF was enacted in 2007, making 2017 the first year that qualified applicants could apply for forgiveness due to the ten year work requirement for eligible public services. This program has denied on average 99 out of every 100 public service workers that have applied for said forgiveness since workers started receiving forgiveness in 2017.
Now there is also a dire need to address the lack of meaningful legislation and lack of scrutiny applied to the development of our education sector. None of this will be possible under the current administration’s plan. Last month, the White House reported Trump’s 2020 budget, which included a 10 percent decrease in educational funding from the 2019 budget. I would love to know where Trump believes the $7.1 billion is needed more than our education sector. After all, our federal government in fiscal year 2019 is spending just 3 percent of our annual budget on education. It has become clear that we must voice the importance of this sector in maintaining a sustainable and innovative society; two aspects of human ingenuity that are coming to the forefront of political and social debates today like farming, climate change, artificial intelligence, social justice and income inequality. But this administration's lack of concern with education just begins at the budget. In Trump's 2020 budget, he has also eliminated subsidized federal student loans for students as well as the PSLF program for future borrowers.
The final nail in affordable education, which is already a huge stretch to consider it affordable for most, will be the stripping of funding for programs that have already been stripped bare. The maximum Pell Grant allotted used to cover over 75 percent of the attendance cost for that student at a four year institution in 1975, while in 2017 it covered just 30 percent. Trump’s proposal would cut additional funding for the Pell Grant program in the future by not adjusting the awards for inflation over the next 10 years. This means that the current maximum grants awarded will not increase for the next decade, which obviously contradicts the prospective trend of rising tuition costs throughout history. According to a report by the Center for American Progress, Pell Grants covered 30 percent of attendance costs nationally in 2017, but when considering the future stagnation of these grants under Trump’s budget, this program is estimated to cover only 23 percent of attendance costs nationally. We cannot allow the defunding of education and opportunity to education become an accepted trend. Contrary to popular belief, education is why America is great, not freedom. Just because we have a Bill of Rights does not make us the most appealing country to come to anymore. This is the 21st century. South Africa, among other countries, has a Bill of Rights built into their constitution, particularly one that makes America’s seem quite frivolous. We Americans have always held dear the notion of fair opportunity in this country. If we allow education to further burden the majority of U.S. citizens who are not financially stable enough to pay for tuition without taking out loans, both student and private, we will see an immense widening of the already concerning income inequality gap.
The accepted notion by our government that students are the “primary beneficiary” of an unpaid internship is absurd rationale to hold. Unpaid internships have become increasingly common. As of recently, 42 percent of companies hiring interns now believe they “are happy to work for free.” Are they happy to work for free, or were they the only people that could afford to work for free? Ross Perlin, author of “Intern Nation,“ described the issue of unpaid internships as creating a “pay to play system since only some people can afford to work for zero dollars for longer than a week or two.” The result of such a trend is the narrowing of opinions and notions heard in big business, politics, media and the like. Unpaid internships allow the privileged to increase their income gap by interning at no cost to them personally. Their family will front the bill, and they will have money saved or money provided by the family for their lifestyle while interning. At the same time, those who are not well-off financially tend to work a job during the school year, and many of whom, like myself, work numerous jobs over the summer just to afford rent. While the privileged enjoy their newfound opportunity and are not financially pressed by it, the average student is essentially wasting their time working temporary wage jobs that often carry no professional relevance to career industries.
The way I see this, the “primary beneficiary” of an unpaid internship to business relationship is undoubtedly the business’. If businesses were not benefiting from this relationship, the recent trend in the growing prevalence of unpaid internships would not have occurred. It has been estimated that U.S. corporations save over $1 billion annually in payroll and taxes by incorporating unpaid internship programs. Statistics on unpaid internships are few and far between due to their recent emergence, but the practice of businesses employing interns through programs became popularized in the 1980s. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Spike Lee, Tom Ford, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are some of the most notable celebrities in pop culture to have started as an intern at some point in their journey.
On top of the growing frequency of unpaid internships, supposed “entry level jobs” that used to be a seemingly given for college graduates have now grown to include extensive prerequisites expected for employment. Just last year, Talent Works took a random sample of over 95,000 jobs and found that 61 percent of all full-time entry level jobs required three or more years of experience.
The exploitation of the value of workers is something that is abused, not just in the U.S., but is a practice that is being employed by some of the most prestigious international institutions. In the year 2012-2013, the U.N. employed over 4,000 unpaid interns. This is an extremely hypocritical stance to be held by what is viewed as the leading global advocate for addressing inequality and prosperity. Asking students to relocate to a new city, pay rent and work without pay is not about seeking the best candidate; it is about setting up requirements that only the affluent and privileged can afford. The result is a cyclical representation of unequal access to opportunity, one that I see as extremely un-American.
Nick Shook is a senior studying political science pre-law at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Let Nick know by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.