The Death Of The Unpaid Internship?

Following a recent court decision forcing Fox Searchlight Pictures to pay two interns from the movie Black Swan “because they were essentially regular employees,” Duncan Black applauds:

Aside from the “fetch my coffee for free” aspect, unpaid internships shut out people from less wealthy backgrounds from important, desirable, lucrative, and influential career paths.

Yglesias disagrees:

My worry would be that we’ll replace zero-salary work/training positions with what amount to negative-salary training in the form of graduate school.

Both the unpaid summer internship and the master’s degree in journalism are based on the idea that eight semesters worth of college leaves most people ill-qualified for a paying journalism job without some further seasoning. And while requiring people to spend months working for free does put a substantial barrier in the way of someone who can’t get financial assistance from his parents, requiring someone to spend a year or two paying many thousands of dollars to a school creates a much larger barrier.

Scott Lemieux objects to Yglesias’ argument:

[N]on-affluent people can borrow money for graduate school but can’t borrow money to work for free.   This may not make sense, but this general framework is enormously unlikely to change.  Because of this, a de facto requirement to do unpaid internships is in fact a much greater barrier to the non-affluent than the requirement to obtain a graduate degree is