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Is the U.S. Becoming a Nation of Interns?

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Is the U.S. becoming a nation of interns? Most colleges and universities require students to complete at least one internship before graduating. Internships are viewed as a way to get real-life working experience and make connections that will lead to full-time employment. But internships have also become substitutes for real jobs.

Journalist Hannah Seligson interviewed several young college graduates in Washington, D.C. and discovered that more and more grads have become “permaterns” – serial interns who are usually in their twenties. Kate, a 25-year-old Ivy League school grad, told Seligson that she’s had three unpaid internships since moving to DC and pays her bills by working as a restaurant hostess three or four nights a week. Kate’s story has become the new norm, Seligson says in an interview with The Daily Ticker.

“Interns have replaced the entry level employee,” she says. The millennial generation "was hardest hit by the recession. Young people are taking internships because they can't find a full-time job.”

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not release employment numbers for perpetual interns. According to Seligson, the government does not define Kate as "unemployed" because she technically has two jobs. Even though the interviewees in Seligson’s article were trying to gain entry into some of the most cutthroat, competitive trades – politics and journalism – this permanent intern trend has permeated all industries.

Interns are starting to fight back against their employers. Diana Wang was “head accessories intern" at fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar. She sued Hearst Corporation, Harper’s Bazaar’s parent organization, in 2011 because she felt exploited after working 40 hours a week -- sometimes as much as 55 hours -- without pay. Her class-action lawsuit accused the company of violating federal and state labor laws and 3,000 former Hearst interns were eligible to join the suit.

Seligson concedes that this “permatern” development does not apply to everyone. The young women she interviewed did not have student loans like millions of other college grads and their parents helped pay for their rent.

“This is very bourgeois phenomenon,” she says.

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Seligson revealed that her foray into journalism was very fortuitous: she started freelancing at a small newspaper in New York City because her best friend’s uncle was the editor and she confesses that she’s had several “lucky” breaks over the years. But she does have some advice for recent grads hunting for a full-time job:

“Dive in,” she argues. “Don’t wait for the perfect job, the perfect opportunity."

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