New York Times misleadingly claims tech interns make more than U.S. workers

Nick Bilton of the New York Times published a rather sensationalist article this weekend titled, "Some Tech Interns Make More than U.S. Workers."

Nick Bilton of the New York Times published a rather sensationalist article this weekend titled, "Some Tech Interns Make More than U.S. Workers."

While stories of interns earning sizeable paychecks at companies like Google and Facebook are well-known, I hopped on over to Bilton's article fully expecting to read about how intern salaries have skyrocketed even more in recent years.

Here’s a quiz for you: Who makes more money, a median American household or an intern at Facebook? If you guessed the latter, the tech company, you’re right.

According to a report released on Friday by Glassdoor, an online jobs and career company, some of the highest paying companies pay their interns more than $75,000 a year. This is more than the median household income in the United States, which according to the Census Bureau, is $53,046 a year.

As it turns out, Bilton's story is more than a little misleading.

In the summer months, demand for engineering talent among the top tech firms in Silicon Valley and elsewhere is immense. Consequently, it's not uncommon for interns to make a lot of money for just two months of work. In crafting his story, however, Bilton extrapolated the summer earnings of tech interns into a full yearly salary and deduced that "interns are making more than the average American household."

According to Glassdoor, interns at companies like Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Apple earn anywhere from $5,700 to $6,791 a month. Over the course of a two-month internship, that's about $11,000 to $13,000. That's undoubtedly a lot of money, but not exorbitant considering the rare skill set many of these interns bring to the table. Indeed, it's nothing more than classic supply and demand. Demand for top engineering talent far exceeds supply. Further, the monthly earnings of these interns is on par with what they might make as full-fledged first-year employees. Of course, an article detailing how a first-year engineering employee at Google makes more than the average American household wouldn't really make for much of a story or garner any page views.

Also consider that well-compensated summer internships isn't a phenomenon that exclusively applies to the tech sector. Every summer, big law firms go to top-tier law schools in an effort to recruit the best and brightest legal minds as summer interns. The salaries paid to these interns at some of the top law firms make some of the tech companies on Glassdoor's list seem frugal by comparison. As an example, a summer intern (or summer associate, as it's called in the legal biz) working at the New York-based law firm Debevoise & Plimpton takes home a paycheck of $3,077 every single week. That's over $12,000 a month, well more than double what interns make at Google, Apple, and Amazon.

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