How Black Swan could affect DC’s unpaid internship culture

There is no denying that our city runs on unpaid internships. The federal government itself is estimated to hire an astounding 20-30,000 each summer This is not uncommon in other cities throughout the US as well; a recent study found 55 percent of the graduating Class of 2012 had an internship or co-op, almost half of which – 47 percent – were unpaid.

Consequently, the internship world has become more complicated, especially for filmmakers, this past June. In Glatt vs. Fox Searchlight Pictures, a New York federal judge ruled interns on two production crews, including Black Swan, should have been paid at least minimum wage. While there have been no specific laws put in place yet, at least 15 other lawsuits have been filed as a result of the ruling. Additionally, Suzanne Bonamici, State Representative from Oregon, recently proposed the Opportunities Success Act, legislation that would offer Pell Grants to subsidize low-income students’ unpaid internships.

There are two sides to the argument. First, unpaid internships cause too great a financial impact on the individual. The District is consistently named one of the most expensive US cities to live in, with the cost of living 44.7 percent above the national average according to one survey. This is coupled with soaring tuition rates and decreasing distribution of aid. Students continue to face increasing difficulty when it comes to budgeting their time between an after-school job and unpaid internship experience.

On the other hand, the potential expertise, on-site training and personal relationships gained are immeasurable when building a post-collegiate career. Graduates with internship experience are more likely to a get job after college than those without. As a smaller film market, DC production companies usually provide college credit for internships. If forced to offer paid positions by law, these same companies might not have the funds and cancel valuable programming to the detriment of the local film society.

While both are valid arguments, at the moment, there seems to be no perfect remedy. Hopefully there will be a beneficial solution put in place in the future for both students and employers.

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