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Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy Paperback – April 4, 2012

3.8 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“‘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

“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

“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

“[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

“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

Intern Nation provides a wide-angle overview of an international system of labor subsidization masked as career opportunity—indeed, as a de rigueur component of baccalaureate and even postgraduate degree work, without which a young person cannot hope to secure a gratifying and adequately remunerative professional career in the twenty-first century.”—Cecelia Tichi, Academe Magazine

“[A] scathing look at the internship culture ...”—Washingtonian

“[Intern Nation] tracks how the explosion of internships in creative fields changed the entry level of many industries.”—New York Times Critic's Notebook

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 286 pages
  • Publisher: Verso; 1 edition (April 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844678830
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844678839
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #992,110 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
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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.
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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.

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.
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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.
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