“Where Have All the Flowers Gone” is a wistful, classic folk song by Pete Seeger but these days I sing with new lyrics — where have all the paid jobs gone?
As a recent college graduate who is looking for work, it has become my full-time job to browse job websites, find positions that suit my interests and would further my career goal as a “fashion magazine editor,” and apply to them en mass. While there is certainly no shortage of positions in media, there is one small problem: none of these positions are paid.
Having an internship as a way to fulfill credits at school is a great way of gaining experience and making connections in your desired field, but what do you do when shit gets real and you stop receiving student loans and start having to pay rent? I don’t know about you, but I can guarantee you the first thing on my mind is not working for people for free when I have rent, food and bills to account for.
Everyone is perpetually broke these days (every twentysomething at least), and there are certainly some folks out there who deserve your labour for free. Indie publications like Shameless and WORN Fashion Journal are run entirely by a staff of volunteers who believe their project is making a positive difference in the world. But if you are hired by a company in the business to make “big, money, big money, big money” (insert overenthusiastic Bob Barker voice here) and they still can’t pay you, I have to ask why. As an intern, your job is basically to make someone else’s job easier — isn’t that worth at least minimum wage? Don’t I at least deserve an honorarium?
If a company can afford to be paying its interns, then it should. Perhaps it is a bad business decision to pay workers when you can find ones that are willing to work for free, but in no way does that constitute equal opportunity employment practices. Not everyone comes from an even financial playing field and there are people who may be extraordinarily capable of going above and beyond the job description, but simply can’t even afford to entertain the idea of working for free. At this point, I hope it’s pretty obvious that I’m referring to myself here, but I know I am not alone.
This is why so may people pick the safe option of finding a stable, decent-paying job over following their dream career to the ends of the earth — because so many goddamn people can’t afford to follow their passion. This common affliction is best depicted in the latest TV sensation, HBO’s Girls, though leaving some questions unanswered. The main character Hannah’s parents threaten to cut her off their financial support — all she needs is $1100 a month! She calculates: “I can last New York for three and a half more days, maybe seven if I don’t eat lunch.” Yet in the second episode she’s still living in New York, presumably more than three days later, with absolutely zero mention of the dependency of her financial situation.
What other options do young creatives have? Freelance. Complete projects for people and get paid for them. If you’re lucky enough you’ll become really popular and get enough little projects to scrape out a living, or else you’re stuck working a service job that (barely) pays the bills and affords you less time for the creativity that would hopefully get you real jobs in the first place.
Now I’m off to update my Microsoft Excel “Job Spreadsheet” (why yes, I am proficient in Microsoft Excel, funny you should ask!) and add different skills to my resume based on the ones listed on your job description.
Isabel Slone usually writes about fashion for Toronto Standard. Follow her on Twitter at @hipstermusings.