Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy Hardcover – May 9 2011
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“A portrait of how white-collar work is changing ... thought-provoking and at times jaw-dropping—almost a companion volume to Naomi Klein’s celebrated 2000 exposé of modern sweatshops, No Logo.”—Andy Beckett, Guardian
“A compelling investigation of a trend that threatens to destroy ‘what’s left of the ordered world of training, hard work and fair compensation’ ... Full of restrained force and wit, this is a valuable book on a subject that demands attention.”—Anna Winter, Observer
“A book that offers landmark coverage of its topic.”—Andrew Ross, London Review of Books
“Perlin contends that most internships are illegal, according to the Fair Labor and Standards Act, stripping people who are employees in all but name of workers’ rights.”—New Yorker
“[An] eye-opening, welcome exposé.”—Sunday Times
“This vigorous and persuasive book ... argues that the fundamental issue is the growing contingency of the global workforce.”—Roger D. Hodge, Bookforum
“Organizations in America save $2 billion a year by not paying interns a minimum wage, writes Ross Perlin in Intern Nation.”—Economist
“Well-researched and timely.”—Daily Telegraph
“[E]ye-opening ... The book tackles a sprawling topic with earnestness and flair.”—Katy Waldman, Washington Post
“Perlin ... has an eye for polemical effectiveness.”—Times Literary Supplement
“A timely book addressing the exploitation of the nation’s younger workforce under the guise of the ‘internship model.’”—Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2011, Huffington Post
“A serious and extremely well-written text that offers sophisticated historical material about the origins of internship and its impact on the individuals concerned, the firms that use it and the world of work more generally”—Cary L. Cooper, Times Higher Education
“Perlin’s attempt to understand internships as a symptom of wider trends in the economy ... makes the book such a fascinating read.”—Spectator
“When you are competing for jobs during a recession, the only thing worse than being exploited can be not being exploited. Yes, many internships are really crummy, but then some of them do ultimately lead to something ... which is why, when people have no access to internships at all, it makes them invisible.”—Ross Perlin speaking to Kaya Burgess, Times of London
“Perlin dissects the employment practices of some of the world’s biggest corporations, inc¬luding Disney, which he accuses of replacing “well-trained, decently compensated full-timers” with an army of low-paid interns. But for employers that approach recruitment strategically, internships are typically a cost—albeit one they hope will pay off in better, happier recruits.”—Financial Times
“[Perlin’s] exposé on the internship model initiates a critical conversation on internships ... his thoughtful book is necessary reading for the millions of young people trying to break into the working world through internships.”—Publishers Weekly
“That fact that it took this long for someone to write this book seems as blatantly wrong as the practice itself. Perlin provides a welcome, long-overdue and much-needed argument.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Perlin’s writing is engaging and the questions he raises are valid ones in an increasingly competitive job market.”—Library Journal
“[A] blistering, highly entertaining attack on today’s internship culture.”—Boston Globe
“‘Interns built the pyramids,’ the great magazine The Baffler once declared. And that was just the beginning of their labors, as Ross Perlin demonstrates in this fascinating and overdue exposé of the wage labor without wages, the resumé-building servitude, at the heart of contemporary capitalism.”—Benjamin Kunkel, a founding editor of n+1 and author of the novel Indecision
“Cloaked in the innocent idea of the intern, aggressive employers are using young people trying to get a foothold to weaken the leverage of existing workers, especially professionals. Ross Perlin gives us an account of another subterranean strategy to undermine working people in the US.”—Frances Fox Piven, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the Graduate Center, CUNY
“Alas, the valuable internship institution is being widely and flagrantly abused, as Ross Perlin demonstrates in this eye-opening book. A huge chunk of the American workplace has been distorted in an unhealthy way, and Perlin provides not only the diagnosis but the beginnings of a prescription.”—James Ledbetter, editor in charge of Reuters.com, and author of Unwarranted Influence
“The world has been waiting for this book. It’s lucky that someone as thoughtful and politically aware as Ross Perlin was there to write it.”—Anya Kamenetz, author of Generation Debt and DIY U
“Few books have been written about the effect of internships, so this short book will be eye-opening for many. Students and parents should add it their reading lists.”—Repps Hudson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“For critics such as Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation, unpaid labor harms everyone in the labor market.”—Alexandra Alper, Reuters
About the Author
Ross Perlin is a graduate of Stanford, SOAS, and Cambridge, and has written for, the New York Times, Time magazine, Lapham’s Quarterly, Guardian, Daily Mail, and Open Democracy. He is researching disappearing languages in China.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
None of this sounds particularly alarming until one starts tallying up the social consequences. For one, unpaid (and even paid) internships automatically disenfranchise tons of talented poor kids whose parents can't pony up the cash to support them (no wonder that hard-to-break-into industries like publishing and film remain the playground of trustfunders). Since interns aren't regular employees, companies needn't provide them with healthcare; interns can't even successfully sue for sexual harrassment in the workplace. Finally -- and this was the most shocking revelation for me in Perlin's book -- unpaid internships are illegal. They violate a host of labor laws. The government simply looks the other way.
Ross Perlin's "Intern Nation" is a spectacular piece of white collar muck-raking. Written in a fluid prose style that communicates a cool rage, and buttressed by hundreds of tiny stories and anecdotes, it ought to help undo some of the psychic damage being wreaked on unprotected workers by companies the world over.
I found the investigation quite revealing especially when issues touched on social justice like access and equal opportunity. For example there are student populations that cannot access internship because they work to get through school and little or no financial support from their families. Even our service veterans cannot always afford to do internships. Perlin does a good job identifying some of these important issues that I confess had escaped me before reading these insights.
I have experienced the financial incentives companies see for themselves using interns and there have been unscrupulous companies that have sought to benefit themselves at the expense of our students. We don't do business with these entities anymore. Perlin did a good job lifting up the carpet on this and I did feel it was quite true for many small businesses that the reason for the internship was to lower labor costs and advantage themselves with no guarantee of on the job learning taking place. Essentially they talk up the experience but don't do much to create real value for students.
The tone is a little bitter and twisted and I found it consistently so throughout the text. More solutions were needed. I found it was like Perlin shouted alarm and then ran from the scene. I would have preferred more provocative ideas about how to make internships better; more case studies of when companies and non-profit organizations do a good job. I was not looking for a balanced approach but I did expect more examples of best practice to learn from. The final chapters on the internship bill of rights and the right for payments was interesting but at the time of writing on the wrong side of history.
The author got me thinking, I reviewed my own work and that of my colleagues and it made me aware to be an advocate for best practices aligned with those supported by the National society for Experiential Education. It was useful and I have it in my office for reference.
The book half-way through began to motivate me to start fake 'internship' opportunities to students who are desperate for one. Mine would be unpaid as well. However, instead of having them make me coffee and go do my laundry, I would assign them reading in the school library. This way the students would actually learn something during their internship, and at the conclusion I would still provide them with references and a company name for their resume. Donations for this service would of course be accepted. While this might be slightly 'unethical' in how it might mislead future employers of the students, it would be a step up from what they are forced into otherwise.
I hope that Mr Perlin continues to track internships and provide an update in the future for this book. The topic lacks seriously of coverage considering that it so involved with anyone who desires a college degree, and from the looks of it, even high school students who are pushed earlier into vocations by ever increasing numbers before their graduation from their schools.
Appendum: I decided to take a look at the internships offerings at my college's job site, and there is certain affirmation of the books probably strongest condemnation: unpaid jobs that required previous experience in the work that the people were tasked to do. In other words, the whole concept of 'internship' that provides an introduction to the field is entirely bypassed, and the companies are simply abusing the free labor of college students. It appears I'll be writing them some strongly worded letters.
Perlin opens "Intern Nation" by chronicling the way that Disney has gamed the system in recent years. The folks at Disney World have discovered that they can replace lots of full-time employees with interns who work for little or no pay. You will find these so-called interns working in gift shops, greeting guests, flipping burgers and operating rides. Furthermore, many of these students are actually paying colleges to receive credit for their internship. That is simply unconscionable! But wait. It is not just those greedy capitalists who are taking advantage of the system. Did you know that there are 1.5 million non-profit organizations in this country? Perlin found numerous instances where the top executives at these organizations were making hundreds of thousands of dollars annually while paying their eager and well-meaning interns little or nothing. The same holds true for many agencies at all levels of government. Because the laws surrounding internships are so fuzzy, many of these young people are clearly being taken advantage of. And why might you ask have we not heard more about this issue in the media? You guessed it. Print and electronic media companies utilize tons of interns and are among the biggest offenders.
Still, internships are all the rage at college campuses around the country. There are websites marketing internships (University of Dreams) and individuals with monikers like Intern Lady and Intern Guru hawking all sorts of paraphernalia on their websites. There are even internship auctions! This is not to say that all internships are a scam. Certainly there are thousands of legitimate internships available from highly-reputable organizations. Still many of these internships offer little or nothing in the way of compensation. The stark economic reality is that most of the primo opportunities are snapped up by the children of the elite and the well-to-do who can afford to work for little or nothing for an extended period of time. Students from working- class families are left to fight for the scraps. It seems to me that there is definitely something wrong with this picture.
In my view "Intern Nation" should be required reading for anyone out there who is even remotely considering an internship. Students and parents need to be vigilant and do their homework before committing to one of these so-called "opportunities". Meanwhile, the spike in internships has had implications for our economy that extend far beyond the college crowd. As CUNY Political Science Professor Frances Fox Piven points out on the back cover of the book "Cloaked in the innocent idea of the intern, aggressive employers are using young people trying to get a foothold to weaken the leverage of existing workers, especially professionals." I completely concur. I am already spreading the word about "Intern Nation: How To Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy" to friends and family. I commend Ross Perlin for bringing these extremely important issues to light. This is an extremely well-written book that deserves your time and attention. Very highly recommended!
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