The twentysomething’s gauntlet

Presently, I attend a junior college and have been working my way towards transfer. Due to the overloaded (and underfunded) California public university system, spring 2014 enrollment is largely off the table. So with that bit of time I’ve thrown some of my P.E and “lifelong learning” classes out to spring. That still leaves me with plenty of time to kill come January, so I’m looking for an internship to move things forward.

For my generation, the internship isn’t about rubbing elbows with the power players and starting up the ladder early. It’s work with absolutely insane hours, that pays at most a token salary, likely minimum wage or lower given time demands. A New York Times feature on people my age in the creative sector (to some extent, my sector) showcased how internships are a way to deny entry-level positions and create competition for an ever-shrinking number of regular jobs. The freelance market is no less bleak. Since so many writers are unemployed or cannot meet basic needs with what work they do have, firms can crowdsource material and have many options to choose from. If you go to any craigslist “writing gigs” section you’ll notice a variety of compensation schemes, ranging from pocket change to outright theft of material. In order of how insulting they are, least to most:

  1. Hey, we’ll pay you a certain amount per article! The length, research, and quality commitments will mean you at best make minimum wage. Also there is no guarantee that will will accept what you write.
  2. Hey you’ll get money once the site reaches a certain level of traffic! You’re basically a stockholder without the contract or cash value of what you hold.
  3. You will receive exposure on our site that will increase your value! Our site will have very little traffic and thus be useless, or a lot and the revenue remains with us.
  4. A certain number of writers will get $10 gift cards for their trouble.
  5. We’re just a true old-fashioned scam.

Legal action has been proceeding in various states against the unpaid internship. It will take longer to address internships that don’t violate minimum wage laws with stated hours, but require large amounts of unpaid overtime. The trend is obvious though- twentysomethings like myself and spending large amounts of our college and post-college years doing work similar in scope to entry-level work in our field, without any of the salary, benefits, or status.

Frustrating is an understatement. When you look at a list of majors by starting and mid-career pay, there is a gulf between hard science and engineering, and everything else. The bottom- social work, elementary education- has always been a particular tragedy, given how much time is spent discussing the flawed schooling system and broken social structure. But it’s mixed with people in the liberal and creative arts that are there to fill societal niches, yet private industry and government effort ignore.

One must begin with question- why do so many graduating students, from undergraduate and graduate programs not have a career path in spite of all their work and skills? If the American economy does not value education, what does it value? What is all this GDP being used for if not employment and capital usage?

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