Unpaid internships under scrutiny

April 3, 2010 at 11:07 AM

NEW YORK, April 3 (UPI) -- Officials in several U.S. states say they are looking into the growing number of unpaid internships to determine whether minimum wage laws are being broken.

The New York Times reported Saturday Oregon, California and New York are among those states where investigations have been launched.

The issue has burgeoned as the recession has dried up paid jobs for young people, who often are reluctant to make waves that could set back their careers, the Times said.

The U.S. Labor Department is wading into situation, saying it is going after companies that don't pay interns properly. It says it also is going to do more to educate companies, colleges and students on the law regarding internships.

"If you're a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren't going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law," Nancy J. Leppink, acting director of the department's wage and hour division, told the Times.

Lance Choy, director of the Career Development Center at Stanford University in California, said there is no official count of paid and unpaid internships. But he notes employers posted 643 unpaid internships on the school's job board this academic year, compared with 174 two years ago.

The newspaper also said the National Association of Colleges and Employers determined 83 percent of graduating students had held internships in 2008, up from 9 percent in 1992. Some experts estimate a quarter to half of those are unpaid.

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