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

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The first no-holds-barred exposé of the exploitative world of internships.

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

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Overview

The first no-holds-barred exposé of the exploitative world of internships.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

London Review of Books
A book that offers landmark coverage of its topic.— Andrew Ross
From the Publisher
“‘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

Guardian
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
Bookforum
This vigorous and persuasive book ... argues that the fundamental issue is the growing contingency of the global workforce.— Roger D. Hodge
Observer
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.
New Yorker
Perlin contends that most internships are illegal ... stripping people who are employees in all but name of workers’ rights.
Katy Waldman
The book tackles a sprawling topic with earnestness and flair…[Perlin] brings wit and conviction to the expected arguments…But he is equally eloquent on the business risks of depending on transient, wageless employees. Most powerfully, he shows how internships lie beyond the means of most Americans even as employers increasingly regard internship experience as a prerequisite for jobs…Ultimately the evenhandedness of Intern Nation makes its diagnoses of injustice all the more chilling.
—The Washington Post
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 Zarov Ben Zarov is an intern at Publishers Weekly, a graduate of Grinnell College, and an urban explorer.
Economist
“Organizations in America save $2 billion a year by not paying interns a minimum wage, writes Ross Perlin in Intern Nation.”
Boston Globe
“[A] blistering, highly entertaining attack on today’s internship culture.”
Huffington Post
“A timely book addressing the exploitation of the nation's younger workforce under the guise of the 'internship model.'”
Washington Post
“[E]ye-opening ... The book tackles a sprawling topic with earnestness and flair.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“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.”
Library Journal
Does the world really need a book-length essay on the treatment and (non)payment of interns? Surprisingly, it might. Perlin's comprehensive narrative, well supported with interview material, research, and insights from his personal internship experiences, ostensibly highlights abuses of interns' indentured labor by corporations, nonprofit organizations, and government offices, but it also tells the broader story of an economy increasingly dependent on and confounded by all things "free." Perlin opens by describing the Disney Program (which employs 7000–8000 interns annually) and focuses on its minimum wages, menial tasks, and enforced company housing. Subsequent chapters provide a history of the Fair Labor Standards Act, university collusion with companies offering internships, the practice of "selling" internships (whereby individuals pay a company to find them unpaid work), and the racism and classism inherent in this system. VERDICT The subject matter may seem too specific to appeal to a broad audience, but Perlin's writing is engaging and the questions he raises are valid ones in an increasingly competitive job market. Those interested in fair labor practices and recent college grads looking for employment may be curious about—if frightened by—this book.—Sarah Statz Cords, The Reader's Advisor Online
Kirkus Reviews

An intrepid ex-intern finally states the obvious—that internships are illogical, unfair and potentially dangerous to an already precarious economic system.

In the business and political worlds, interns have been around long time, making copies, fetching coffee and occasionally inciting scandals that call for the impeachment of influential elected officials.But, as Perlin deftly points out in his well-reasoned narrative, the number of unpaid interns in the workforce has skyrocketed in recent years, creating a bizarre, vicious economic cycle. Put simply, since the economic crash of 2008, there are fewer jobs than there have been for the better part of the century, which means scores of graduates who can't find work but need experience.As this talented, educated workforce arrives willing to work for free, employers are saving tremendous amounts of money (to the tune of $600 million per year), and therefore have even less incentive to create paid jobs, thus creating an even bigger void for the next crop.The logic here is certainly not earth-shattering, but the actual numbers are staggering.Another seemingly obvious but thus far uninvestigated point is the issue of the law.With so many fair-labor laws on the books, Perlin examines how it is legally possible that nearly half of 2008 college graduates have jobs with no pay or health benefits—he discovers that most are not entirely legal and certainly violate the spirit of the law.This point becomes particularly sticky because interns lack not only compensation, but also basic protections guaranteed by the same labor laws, essentially giving them no legal rights as workers—this adds complexity to an argument that can at times feel repetitive.

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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781844678839
  • Publisher: Verso Books
  • Publication date: 4/4/2012
  • Edition description: Updated
  • Pages: 286
  • Sales rank: 792,753
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 1.00 (d)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2012

    Any college and even high school student and recent graduates, A

    Any college and even high school student and recent graduates, AS WELL AS THEIR PARENTS should read this to be better informed and prepared for the world of internships. While Perlin clearly has a personal point of view about unpaid internships, he does an excellent job presenting an overview of this now embedded aspect of most careers in the corporate and not for profit world today. He writes in an entertaining, witty and easy to read style on a very important topic where change is needed. This reader in fact already knows of organizations that have made changes that are to the benefit of interns as a result of reading this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2011

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