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Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy [Hardcover]

Ross Perlin

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Book Description

May 9 2011
Interns. They famously shuttle coffee in a thousand newsrooms, MPs’ offices, and film sets, but they also deliver aid in Afghanistan, design high-end fashions, and build the human genome. They are of all ages, and their numbers are growing fast in an increasingly bleak economic landscape for young people. A huge and increasing number of internships are illegal under minimum wage law and this mass exploitation saves companies millions each year. Interns enjoy no workplace protections and no standing in courts of law—let alone luxuries such as a living wage.

Ross Perlin, a self-confessed intern survivor, has written the first exposé of the brave new world of unpaid work. In this witty, astonishing, and serious investigative work, Perlin takes the reader inside both boutique nonprofits and megacorporations such as Disney. He unmasks a grotesque internship industry where coveted, unpaid placements are auctioned off and universities are complicit in exploiting student labour. He profiles fellow interns, talks to historians about what unleashed this phenomenon, and explains why the intern boom is perverting workplace practices in locations all around the world.

Thought-provoking, insightful, and humorous, Intern Nation is an urgent call to overturn the latest racket in unpaid work.

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Review

“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.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First rate white-collar muckraking April 23 2011
By curmudgeon84 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Few college graduates kvetch about their unpaid internships these days; they're considered a given, on par with clunky freshman-year prerequisites like introductory composition or math. But as Ross Perlin points out in his excellent, wonderfully-researched book "Intern Nation," companies of all stripes have cashed in on this unquestioning attitude to a) substitute deserving paid workers with scores of interns, particularly in downturns; b) assign highly-qualified interns to menial jobs without any compensatory training; and c) make a quick buck in the process by tying-up with universities who offer internships for college credit.

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.
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Setting the record straight May 9 2011
By gdw - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I have to say, LadyLaw clearly didn't read the book very carefully. Perlin points to more than one example of positive traineeship programs and also offers the story of "Tina" (page 138) who interned at ExxonMobil as an engineer. Just to quote the end of the story, "[Tina] 'found [herself] creating electronic tools which could be used to better-understand the refinery systems under consideration.' Not bad for a summer's work." In fact, Perlin's research is scrupulous and fair-minded; and his historical, legal, ethical, economic, and personal considerations of the internship system are brilliant and understandable. In contrast to LadyLaw's harangue, Perlin offers constructive criticisms and positive examples that can be used to improve our workplaces and society. Intern Nation is a totally noble effort and a great read.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Race to the bottom July 2 2011
By God - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The book used the term "race to the bottom" to describe how workers these days have to underbid each other, all the way to zero wages, and sometimes even paying money to get the unpaid internship. During my time in college I've worked only a single internship, which was paid due to being in engineering field (one of few typically paid fields to intern), but what I observed matched quite a bit what the writer reports on. The intern is not by any means afforded the respect of a regular employee, and the educational part of the internship is not going to be there anymore than having a part-time job in flipping burgers. In either case there is nothing to stop a motivated engineer to think of ways to engineer a better way of doing things, but the company is not interested in advancing the skills in your field. To them, you are just an inconvenience, unless you have willingness to work as a servant taking care of boring and simple routines.

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.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking! May 2 2011
By Mlinda - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
An intelligent and easily readable book addressing an extremely challenging topic to get one's arms around! Working with available research as well as extensive interviewing across the range of players involved, the author has provided the means for students and their parents, college placement organizations, corporations, governments and not-for-profits to hopefully rethink the love affair that now exists for internships-especially unpaid ones-as the way in the door to a career. Thank you, Ross Perlin!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some Hits and Misses Sept. 21 2011
By John Edward Coumbe-lilley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I first heard the author on National Public Radio and was intrigued by the insight and expose like qualities of their work. As an internship director at a 4 year college that has set up internship programs outside of academia I bought the book in anticipation of new perspectives on internships I had not considered or been exposed to.

Pros
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.

Cons
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.

Overall
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.
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