EDITORIAL: Banning internships, hurting interns

Minimum-wage extremists look to take the next logical step

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Finding a paying job these days is hard enough. Certain liberals on the Left Coast are determined now to make it harder still, with a scheme to eliminate interns.

In the past, internships were a classic “win-win” proposition. College students and recent graduates have a better shot at landing a full-time position after spending a few months volunteering at a firm to pick up necessary skills and experience. For the employer, some of the humbler but necessary tasks get done by interns, freeing resources to provide better products and services to customers. Hiring interns is attractive to employer and intern alike because both get to “try before you buy.”

Class warriors in Seattle are blind to the mutual benefits of this arrangement. They look at opportunity and see only exploitation. City Councilman Kshama Sawant, leader of the city’s recent minimum-wage increase to $15 an hour, thinks the unskilled and inexperienced volunteers must be paid, and at no less than $15 an hour, for running errands, making copies and refilling the staplers.

Ms. Sawant, a member of a fringe political party called the Socialist Alternative, insists that the University of Washington terminate university-required, unpaid internships. Speaking to The Stranger, a local weekly, Ms. Sawant calls unpaid internships an “abomination.” She compares requiring salaries for interns to the civil rights movement, insisting that her crusade is about “justice.”

For the Labor Department, it’s an opportunity to make things tough for business. The bureaucracy has devised a six-part test to determine whether an intern must be paid the minimum wage. In an unpaid position, the employer must “derive no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern.” That standard is all but impossible to meet, because almost any task performed as part of an internship provides the employer with some kind of “immediate advantage.”

Delivering the morning coffee to the CEO, ensuring that he’s ready for the day’s work, would qualify as delivering an “immediate advantage.” In a recent legal filing, the Obama administration explains that it fears that during “difficult economic times” employers would dismiss full-time employees and replace them with unpaid interns.

The department’s lawyers said the argument that interns derive value from learning on the job “will have the most detrimental effect on disadvantaged individuals who have the most need for training and the greatest need for the [Fair Labor Standard] Act’s protections.” Internships must be banned because employers can’t be trusted.

This attitude, like an unreasonably high minimum wage, hurts inexperienced job seekers most. Economists at Ball State University calculated that when Congress increased the federal minimum wage by 40 percent between 2007 and 2009, it cost Americans more than 550,000 jobs.

For ideologues of a socialist bent, such as Ms. Sawant, it’s of no importance that the only business booming in Seattle is the printer who sells pink slips by the pound. Instead of killing jobs, sapping the self-worth of recent graduates and building barriers, the Seattle City Council should focus on revitalizing jobs and opportunity, and get out of the way of the job creators.

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