Want a snapshot of everything that's wrong with corporate culture at present?
Try the following two news items—posted the same day in the New York Times last week, and fortuitously juxtaposed on the paper of record's site—for a little perspective.
First up, the Gray Lady reports that there has been significant growth in unpaid internships—so much so that labor commissioners across the country are now examining the phenomenon for evidence that employers are using the schemes to bypass labor laws.
The second item for consideration is a special report into CEO pay, which found that median executive salary packages in 2009 "declined by 13 percent […] to $7.7 million. The average total pay tumbled by 15 percent, to $9.5 million."
We'll deal with the obvious dangers in correlating the two phenomena in a second, but let's first note the (not entirely inappropriate) knee-jerk reaction. The "average" CEO is taking home $9.5 million while their companies are taking advantage of free labor from interns to cut costs.
Now, the caveats: the "average" salary figure is only drawn from the top of the CEO pile. The Times piece notes that the salary report they cite is based on "the pay of 200 chief executives at 199 public companies with revenue of at least $5.78 billion that filed their proxies by March 26. (Only 199 companies are on the list because Motorola has two co-C.E.O.’s.)" Some companies abusing free labor, therefore, are likely only paying their leaders hundreds of thousands of dollars, rather than millions.
Additionally, the piece on internships notes that "[n]o one keeps official count of how many paid and unpaid internships there are," and bases its assertion that the market for unpaid internships has mushroomed largely on anecdotal evidence. However, that includes a tripling of the number of unpaid internships posted on Stanford's job board in the 2009-2010 academic year compared to two years ago, and a 2008 study that found some 83 percent of graduating students had held an internship position prior to graduation—up from just 9 percent in 1992.