, 23, decided to take an unpaid internship at a newspaper this summer, she thought she could make it work. She would live at home, get a part-time job, and cut back her spending. Her parents offered to help her pay for food and gas.
But then Kristina's father got laid off from his construction job, the family budget tightened, and Kristina, who attends
""Everybody's hurting, employers and students,"" said
, Associate Director of the
As companies cut costs, the number of internship opportunities offered nationwide has dropped 21 percent from last year, according to the
""We used to pay, but we're not doing that anymore,"" said
, senior vice president of BankAtlantic, which stopped paying interns in 2008 when the economy took a downturn.
""We ask them to work for free for a great work experience,"" Triozzi said.
It's this desire for experience that pushes students like Kristina to intern. ""I know that if I don't, it's going to be harder for me to get a job in the future,"" Webb said. So she got a job pet-sitting and interns several times a week at the
""It's really frustrating, especially since I actually produce content for the Town-Crier,"" Webb said. ""But it's definitely worth it.""
More than ever, internships are viewed as the surest route to a job after graduation. ""Having an internship is absolutely essential,"" said
, director of
But as the recession drags on, it's taking a lot more than it used to, leaving students in a bind. They are told that internships are essential, no matter the cost, but as opportunities shrink and costs rise, they're forced to ask: is this worth it?
""If a student is in a hardship situation, payment can make a difference between whether they can intern or not,"" Childers said.
For some, working for free is simply not possible.
""It denies low income kids an opportunity,"" said
, special assistant to the president for governmental relations at
For these students, internships become part of a daily balancing act. ""They have to juggle work and school and internships, along with their other responsibilities, just to put in two or three hours, just so they can say 'I did this,'"" Pippin said.
It's a familiar situation for
, 23. He had an unpaid internship last summer before being hired at a
""No one is going to pay my bills.""
There is some good news, however. Companies like
""We get a lot of great talent,"" said
, group campus recruiter for
Moreover, companies that offer paid internships are increasing the hourly wage by 5 percent, moving the national average to
, senior education editor for
Students taking unpaid internships are encouraged to ask for help, Wise said. ""Sometimes companies will work with you to ease the financial burden. There are also a number of colleges that offer summer fellowships to cover internship expenses,"" she said.
While internships remain important even in a time of financial hardship and job scarcity, students are asked to balance humility with a sense of self-worth. ""Students have to show a willingness to work hard,"" Childers said. ""But at the same time, they need to be valued, and if employers can pay them, then they should.""
(c) 2009, Sun Sentinel.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.