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ESPOSITO: Internships, entry-level positions must account for workers' needs

Column: Unapologetically

Employers must understand that they need to provide their employees a livable wage.  – Photo by Amy Hirschi / Unsplash

In August of 2021, I received an email from a recruiting manager that I had always hoped for. It was an offer to intern that upcoming semester in New York City at a primetime TV show.

I chose to attend Rutgers University for many reasons: the affordability, the diverse atmosphere and the size of the school. One of the most important decision factors for me was the location.

I always had planned to be commuting distance from a big, metropolitan area. I wanted opportunities in college to intern, grow my resume and hopefully secure a successful career for myself after graduation. 

On Rutgers decision day, it was not the Scarlet Knight mascot or the beautiful campus that won me over. Rather, it was the prospect of an easily accessible train station, and New York City is just 45 minutes away. 

With the pandemic changing the usual structure of internship programs, it was not until this email at the end of summer that I was finally able to fulfill my longtime dream of being a student intern. The rate would be $15 per hour, and my schedule would be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., three days a week.

My previous internships had been remote due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19), but the $15 hourly wage was something I was familiar with and comfortable living off of as a college student.

I easily accepted this position, excited for my New York City dreams to begin. It took me less than two weeks into this position to realize why people opt for tiny shoebox apartments in exchange for living in a location without a work commute. 

Something left out of the appeal of commuting from New Brunswick to New York City is the issue that a round trip for one day is $28 dollars. I was commuting to Harlem, 106th St, so that added on almost $10 dollars of subway fees. My weekly commute cost me approximately $120 dollars, which was almost half my weekly salary.

There was also the additional commute time. A simple 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift turned into leaving my house at 6 a.m. and getting home at 6:30 p.m.

This was when I vowed that if I was lucky enough to secure a New York City job, I would have to get a New York City apartment. The quality of life as a long-distance commuter was just something I could not bear to deal with.

This year, New York City passed a “New York City Pay Transparency Law.” Starting this May, all jobs posted must include salary information. Though this is still months away, many companies have already adopted this trend and have posted the salaries of their entry-level jobs. 

Something I have noticed is that many of these entry-level employees make a salary that would not suffice to be able to live comfortably or even at all, in the same city of their place of work.

So as a new college graduate, pursuing a successful career that begins with an entry-level job, there is one of two choices: spend thousands of dollars yearly in commuting or thousands of dollars in rent. Both of these can be unrealistic options for some people. 

There is no one to blame and no fingers to point for these types of situations. But, there should not have to be a choice between buying groceries, having somewhere to live or money to go to work. A lot of college graduates are unprepared for this reality. And this is something we should acknowledge.

Entry-level jobs are about low wages and long hours. They bring out the hard workers, and highlight who is going to climb to the top of the ladder. Still, they should not hinder quality of life.

Laura Esposito is in the School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and political science. Her column, "Unapologetically," runs on alternate Tuesdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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