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Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy Hardcover – May 9, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
How many interns does it take to screw in a light bulb? Who cares, it's free. If that joke triggers cringe-inducing memories of schlepping coffee, Perlin, an intern turned intern activist, is your man. His exposé on the internship model initiates a critical conversation on internships—when are they exploitative and when are they necessary? can they help you land your dream job?—and his thoughtful book is necessary reading for the millions of young people trying to break into the working world through internships.Perlin begins by casting a harsh light on Disney World's massive internship program, the Disney College Program, a so-called "educational experience" that is, in reality, a revolving door bringing in thousands of undergraduates—even high school students—who keep the Disney Magic alive by performing menial labor for meager wages. Perlin's exposé of Disney demonstrates his eye for irony as well as his gift for engaging the reader with a steady stream of insight, humor, and well-deployed anecdotes. Perlin pivots from Disney villains to the evolution of the internship, a word borrowed from the French term "interne" used to describe junior medical men performing simple physician's tasks. He compares and contrasts internships with the fading practice of apprenticeships, investments of time and labor that actually gave young people a foothold in an industry, and reveals how the internship trend represents a change in how individuals conceive of work and their role in the economy. Perlin also teases out the class issues inherent in the intern debate—many young people who must support themselves simply cannot afford to take on an unpaid internship, no matter how great a career opportunity it might be.But Perlin's most shocking revelation isn't that many internships are exploitative but that most are illegal. Companies of all sizes and across industries flout (with no consequences) the requirements outlined in the Fair Labor Standards Act to benefit from free labor. Perlin covers the complicity of colleges, many offering dubious internship programs aimed more at generating revenue for the school than benefiting students. Not even the federal government's massive, intensely competitive internship programs escape Perlin's scorn; he describes them as a hotbed of nepotism and squandered talent—but still, the right government internship is an all but necessary career step for an aspiring politician. Fortunately, Perlin also offers hope and bright solutions, and ends the book with an Intern Bill of Rights and the observation that "a general strike of all interns would show all they contribute for the first time a delicious low-level chaos to the world's work." By Ben ZarovBen Zarov is an intern at Publishers Weekly, a graduate of Grinnell College, and an urban explorer.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“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
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I recommend reading this book especially if you have been an intern or if you are considering being an intern for the first time.
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.
I was in college what seems not too long ago (2000-2004). It was a large state university. I had two majors, trending from chemistry to English. I was aware of internships, but it wasn't something everyone did. I knew one guy that I has classes with in Chemistry, and he ended up doing a co-op in engineering. A woman I knew did an "Internship" at the university press for an academic year. One person I knew was somewhat obsessed with them, but she was in "Business," which I didn't see as an actual field of study. Internships were for chumps. And business majors.
Or so I though.
They were creeping in and I didn't realize it. I had to apply twice to get a job at the student paper. I only got the job the second time because I was friends with the editor of the section I ended up working in. I was paid fifteen dollars a story, period. It wasn't worth it, so I dropped it. I dropped it because I had a job.
I had a job in a restaurant, making pizzas and subs and pasta dishes. It was my real job that was horrible and exploitative and that I only held onto because I understood that potential employers in "real" jobs valued a long and stable work history. I worked my way up to manager where they thought enough of me to pay me six fifty an hour.
I only worked that because I was going to be a poet. My fall-back job was being an English Professor. I ended up going to graduate school, the second year I applied because the first year I didn't get into any of the programs I applied to. I ended up making half of the poverty line teaching and grading underclassmen in their composition abilities. I should have applied for food stamps, but I wasn't savvy enough to think of it.
None of it mattered to most people. It was what you did to get to your future, whatever that may be. You go into debt, you live in moldy basements, you make do. Perlin doesn't get into a critique of capitalism at large, but that is where his book and my personal experience led me to. You push the wage floor to zero; it gets pushed to where you pay for the privlige to work. The Martians looking down shake their heads.
The problem with _Intern Nation_, if there is one, is that it is too limited. Of course those starting out feel that their employment is contingent and precarious. No matter what their official status, at the bottom you try anything to hold on. This happens no matter what your future might be. The market controls us by fear. Internships in a decade have gone from something someone might do to something you have to do. The current economic situation only reinforces this. I have a younger brother and sister still in school. They have many of the same things to do to build a future that I did, only more explicitly. The lines saying "Graduate Teaching Assistant" and "Staff Writer" on my resume say little about me but much about the economic system we have to exist in.
Perlin sees hope in organizing interns. I share his hope, but have trepidation. I tried to organize workers at the restaurant I worked at. I ran for president of the graduate teacher's organization in graduate school. My whole platform was on organizing to increase wages and benefits. I lost the vote to the other ticket two-to-one. The problem I faced was that Perlin's project faces. The workers and the GTAs didn't see themselves as what they were. I am reminded of Sinclair's explanation of why socialism never took root in America: they didn't see their present situation, but were "Temporarily embarrassed millionaires". There was no sense of identity, and that hurts anyone trying to organize based on that particular identity. I don't fault Perlin for Upotianism though. This book starts an important argument in the larger discussion on the role of labor in a capitalistic system.