The Problem 

Unpaid internships deepen inequality, accelerate the racial wealth gap, and ensure unequal representation in our professional world. When accounting for housing, food and transportation, an internship can cost up to $6,000 for the intern. Internships ultimately act as credentials for the privileged few.

Our Internship Economy by the Numbers

2 Million

The estimated number of people who intern in the U.S. each year.

6% to 8%

of Black and Latinx students have paid internship experience, compared to 74% of their white peers.

50% More Job Offers

Paid interns received 50% more job offers compared to unpaid interns or those who have never interned


The average cost of an internship.


of students in college are working part-time jobs to pay for their living expenses.

6 out of 10

employers prefer hiring a candidate with work experience such as internships. In the 1970s, 3 out of 4 jobs required a high school education or less.

Unpaid Internships Systematically Exclude Many and Lead to Underrepresentation


Fortune 500 CEOs

Non-Profit Executives


This lack of representation is a direct result of excluding those who could not afford to get their foot in the door at private companies, nonprofits and the halls of Congress. 

In 1973, 3 out of 4 jobs required a high school diploma or less. Today, 2 out of 3 jobs require postsecondary education and field-relevant experience such as internships. Due to the racial wealth gap and the added stress placed on low-income students who need to work to make ends meet, unpaid internships only deepen economic inequality. To create a more equitable workforce, more diverse leadership, and a more just world, the Department of Labor must crack down on unpaid internships.

Our Proposal





The Solution:
Tell the Department of Labor to Crack Down on Unpaid Internships

Reversing Trump-Era Rollback of Intern Protections

Under the Trump Administration, the Department of Labor made it easier for for-profit employers to employ unpaid interns by using the highly-subjective “primary beneficiary” test. Previously, a six-factor test was used to determine whether an intern was entitled to compensation. The test was developed with a Supreme Court Case from 1947 as precedent. 

Collecting Data

Currently, the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) do not track interns or internships. As a result, internships are largely unaccounted for and unregulated in necessary data. 

We’re asking the DOL to create reporting requirements for unpaid internships so BLS can track industries which utilize the labor of unpaid interns. Increased data transparency would also allow the federal government to ensure federal agencies are leveraging internships in order to increase diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.

Pay Interns

Currently, the Department of Labor offers unpaid internships. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, it is generally permissible for nonprofits and public sector organizations to host unpaid interns. That being said, unpaid internships create a barrier to entry for students who cannot afford to work for free, who are often people of color, from gaining experience in fields which heavily rely on unpaid interns. 

We’re asking the Department of Labor pay all of their interns and make an effort to crack down on unpaid internships across industries.

Create Internship Task Force

Currently, the Department of Labor has an Office of Apprenticeships and has invested heavily in the expansion of registered, regulated, apprenticeship programs across the country. 

We are asking the Department of Labor equally invest in internships by creating an Internship Task Force responsible for:

  • Ensuring all interns within the Department of Labor are paid;
  • Creating a Nonprofit Enforcement Initiative whereby Wage and Hour Division (WHD) investigates nonprofits for Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) violations, including, but not limited to, conducting the primary beneficiary test for unpaid interns;  
  • Revisiting the FLSA exemption for “ volunteer categorization.” The role and nature of internships have evolved since the exemption was created, and should not fall under the trainee framework; it merits an individualized test developed specifically for interns;
  • Exploring a potential partnership with the Department of Education around investigating colleges and universities who offer academic credit for unpaid internships;
  • Creating reporting requirements for unpaid internships, so BLS can track industries which utilize the labor of unpaid interns.