Students, cheerleaders, & lawyers all exploited as they scramble for the few opportunities in New America

Summary: One astonishing aspect of the structural changes reshaping America is how fiercely we work to avoid seeing them. Such as the transformation of employment. Breaking unions was the first and essential step. Now comes the larger changes: shifting jobs from full time with benefits and job security into temporary, insecure, part-time, no-benefits — at lower wages.

Here we see four snapshots of this structural change in the power relationships of employers and workers — as people become increasingly desperate for opportunities. We close our eyes to these changes, since seeing the 1% build a New America on the ruins of the old would upset the even tenor of our lives.

Buffalo Jills
Buffalo Jills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on 9 August 2012. Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

“To get the man’s soul and give nothing in return -– that is what really gladdens Satan’s heart.”
— C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942)


  1. Cheerleaders mistreated for profit
  2. Internships: opportunities for the affluent
  3. Entry level positions for lawyers
  4. For More Information

(1)  Cheerleaders mistreated for profit

Cheerleaders for professional sports teams pay much of their own expenses, work long hours, and earn a pittance — all in the service of fabulously profitable sports businesses.

The Cheerleaders Rise Up: NFL cheerleaders are putting down their pom-poms and demanding a better deal“, Amanda Hess, Slate, 23 April 2014 — Excerpt:

In 2014, the cheerleaders revolted.

This January, rookie NFL cheerleader Lacy T. kicked things off when she filed a class action lawsuit against the Oakland Raiders, alleging that the team fails to pay its Raiderettes minimum wage, withholds their pay until the end of the season, imposes illegal fines for minor infractions (like gaining 5 pounds), and forces cheerleaders to pay their own business expenses (everything from false eyelashes to monthly salon visits).

Within a month, Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader Alexa Brenneman had filed a similar suit against her team, claiming that the Ben-Gals are paid just $2.85 an hour for their work on the sidelines.

And Tuesday, five former Buffalo Bills cheerleaders filed suit against their own team, alleging that the Buffalo Jills were required to perform unpaid work for the team for about 20 hours a week. Unpaid activities included: submitting to a weekly “jiggle test” (where cheer coaches “scrutinized the women’s stomach, arms, legs, hips, and butt while she does jumping jacks”); parading around casinos in bikinis “for the gratification of the predominantly male crowd”; and offering themselves up as prizes at a golf tournament, where they were required to sit on men’s laps on the golf carts, submerge themselves in a dunk tank, and perform backflips for tips (which they did not receive). The Buffalo Jills cheerleaders take home just $105 to $1,800 for an entire season on the job.


… When I reported on the long hours and low pay of the Washington, D.C. football team’s cheerleaders in 2011, nobody seemed too upset about the fact that the cheerleaders made just $75 a game while working for a team that brings in $76 million a year … The contrast between the NFL commissioner’s $44 million annual salary and the Buffalo Jill who brings in just $105 is too rich to ignore …


(2)  Internships: opportunities for the affluent

ProPublica is conducting an investigation into the growing employment category of interships: unpaid workers, often without legal protections. They fall into two categories — easily exploited, and gateways for children of the well-connected and affluent to the fast-track. See their articles here.

The number of internships in the United States has ballooned over the past few decades. But oversight and legal protection for interns hasn’t kept up. We’re investigating companies that may be violating labor laws by employing unpaid workers, schools’ role in the issue and how it’s affecting American workers.

Articles about the internship scam:

  1. Jobs Few, Grads Flock to Unpaid Internships“, New York Times, 5 May 2012
  2. The unpaid internship racket“, Timothy Noah, MSNBC, 20 June 2013

For more information see Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy by Ross Perlin (2012):

Millions of young people — and increasingly some not-so-young people — now work as interns. They famously shuttle coffee in a thousand magazine offices, legislative backrooms, and Hollywood studios, but they also deliver aid in Afghanistan, map the human genome, and pick up garbage. Intern Nation is the first exposé of the exploitative world of internships. In this witty, astonishing, and serious investigative work, Ross Perlin profiles fellow interns, talks to academics and professionals about what unleashed this phenomenon, and explains why the intern boom is perverting workplace practices around the world.

(3)  Entry level positions for lawyers

Law is the first of the major professions to undergo the transformation of joining New America. Stars get rich, the lower tier barely makes a middle class living — and it offers far less social mobility than in the post-WW2 era. But a characteristic of New America is that no matter how bad the deal given masses, our elites find ways to make it worse. Here’s an example.

Gold Coins
Law firms’ most valuable resource. New hires are Kleenex.

Look at the increases in median annual tuition at ABA-accredited schools (in 2011 dollars, per Paul Campos):

  • Private: $39,915
  • Public: $20,076

After paying all that money (often borrowed) graduates face a tough job market. As seen in the deal offered by this attractive entry-level job, albeit with demanding requirements. They ask much, and give nothing. It’s New America’s introduction to New America.

Marin DA jobs

Perhaps this is an outlier, an employer unusually bold in their willingness to shaft workers. No, it’s not. From the LinkUp Job Search Engine:

Volunteer Legal Jobs

For More Information

Posts about our new class system:

  1. The new American economy: concentrating business power to suit an unequal society, 27 April 2012
  2. One graph that says much about America, and our future: the growth in jobs vs. food stamp use, 6 February 2013
  3. Public employee unions – an anvil chained to the Democratic Party, 15 February 2013
  4. Why the 1% is winning, and we are not, 26 May 2013 — They are smart, organized, and have planned how to win.
  5. On this Labor Day, let’s remember what unions have done for America, 2 September 201
  6. Back to the future in New America: our new class structure, 27 November 2013

Posts about about the fake STEM crisis (jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math):

  1. Do we have a shortage of workers, or just cheap employers? Part one of two., 8 May 2012
  2. Do we have a shortage of workers, or just cheap employers? Part two of two., 9 May 2012
  3. The shortage of STEM workers: another bogus crisis crafted to benefit the 1%, 28 February 2014



12 thoughts on “Students, cheerleaders, & lawyers all exploited as they scramble for the few opportunities in New America”

  1. Presumably the “volunteer” lawyers are surviving on unemployment and/or other “welfare” benefits. Thus the class system comes even to living on the public dole: the “volunteer” District Attorney or Deputy AG is a high-minded civic servant, while the inner-city 24 year-old in an area where there are no jobs or opportunities of any sort is merely a welfare bum.

    1. Tsar,

      They are volunteer lawyers, no need for the scare quotes.

      You raise an important point that these unpaid jobs are an extreme example of the same game the big corps run with their part-time minimum wage jobs — possible only because of State welfare benefits. In effect having the State pick up part of their compensation package.

      If most of these volunteers are recent law school graduates (hopefully), they probably would not be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits (max 26 weeks). Benefits available for individuals are skimpy. My guess is that most rely on parents or spouse for support, plus some part-time work.

      Also, good point about the class distinctions in these different users of welfare!

    2. Fabius Maximus,

      quick note on my use of scare-quotes on “volunteer”. As I was writing the comment, I was thinking about how these lawyers (and likewise the interns) might be volunteers, but they’re really doing it out of necessity: too much time being unemployed means you essentially become unemployable. The longer you’re unemployed, the less likely you are to even get an interview. Essentially they have no choice but to take the volunteer work if they want to try to preserve their future position in the economy. Grim prospects all around with no signs of improvement on the horizon.

      1. Tsar,

        That’s a powerful point, correcting what I said. Graduates have what is in a sense a wasting asset — a ticket to practice law — and employers have found ways to capture so e of its value through a period of unpaid labor.

        Classic rent-seeking by powerful organizations over unorganized individuals. An e tremendous version of the residency inflicted on doctors — long hour, low pay — after graduation.

        Thanks for the correction!

  2. Much of the public has been easily duped into hating unions. They can’t say why they hate unions. Just that they are bad. Pathetic.

    1. Darwin,

      I agree. But this didn’t just happen. Corporations worked together for generations in a well-funded program. This is patient wise investment of their money, and they’re reaping the rewards.

      We the people are feckless, unwilling to see what’s happening, credulous, unwilling to organize ourselves and work to better our condition. We too are reaping the just rewards of our behavior. As you said, pathetic.

      It’s the great circle of life.

  3. As to how an individual might respond, one way would be to go boho, and toss convention to the wind.

    This is not easy, and subject to criticism (I anticipate FM will provide same in his response.) But when all is said and done, better to be a staving artist than a starving lawyer. Here is a description of how it was done: Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939 by Virginia Nicholson (2005)

    “In a vibrant catalogue of anecdotes and tragicomic episodes, Nicholson pays homage to British writers and artists who challenged convention before the Second World War. Living for art could exact a price — Robert Graves, hoping to subsidize his writing, made a disastrous foray into shopkeeping, while a destitute Dylan Thomas used his books as furniture. For Nicholson, such recklessly hand-to-mouth living is downright heroic. Although the eccentric domestic arrangements of the Bloomsbury group are a familiar topic, she casts her net wide to include lesser-known figures like Nina Hamnett, a fixture at London’s Café Royal, and Betty May — the cocaine addicted model of the sculptor Jacob Epstein — whose signature dish was grilled mouse on toast.”

  4. You know it’s just the same with everything in life.
    You’d think history showes us at least anything, but no.
    Disagree if you will but the world changes rapidly, and none of us have no control whatsoever over it.
    For instance, imagine Obama had any balls to put Putin to his place, but it seems like it’s never happening, welcome world war.
    A very deep post, thanks!

    1. Sarah,

      While I agree with your general view, I disagree with your specific.

      Superpowers almost never interfere with each other’s sphere of influence. Nuclear powers even less so.

      Nor is there any likelihood of events in a Ukraine escalating into world war. That is the cheerleading of our military complex, eager to hype every possible conflict to sustain funding for their insanely large machinery, totally disproportionate to our actual threats.

      Finally, this is not a game of machimso. There in nothing to be gained from “putting Putin in his place”. That’s a mad hegemonic view, which is more likely to spark war than anything Putin has done. Which is, by the way, far less aggressive than US actions since the fall of the iron curtain.

  5. The MIC is eating system from within. As you chronicle America is a low wage/no wage nation;meanwhile aging boomers have little or no saving so will retire into poverty and their health is poor to boot. Meanwhhile low income school children now 49% and getting 3d world quality education according to recent report-doesn’t matter if you are in South or in rich NY same goes! Whole host of bad policies strip mining (to use a term you used for corporations in an earlier article)

    By the way interesting that 73,000 vets dead already from First Iraq war. I expect this is the DU effect-whch takes years to show up. DU also shoeing up in Iraq War II and Afghan vets.
    Sarah seems to be suffering from massive knowledge deficit. people like her are allowing the MIC to strip mine US from within.
    Department of Veterans Affairs Reports 73 Thousand U.S. Gulf War Deaths
    Uranium symptoms match US report as cancer fears spread
    WHO Refuses to Publish Report on Cancers in Iraq Caused by Depleted Uranium
    Rise of Cancers and Birth Defects in Iraq: World Health Organization Refuses to Release Data

    1. Winston.

      You raise many interesting points. One esp I have wanted to write about: the boomers retiring with little in the way of pensions and savings — but often with large debts. It’s one of the most obvious trends of our time, but also almost unmentioned.

      Boomers will be dis-saving, not saving, and spending a lot less. I don’t see how this can’t be a major drag on the economy. Plus the human cost.

      The bankruptcy of the Federal retirement systems — a smaller and relatively easily avoidable outcomes — is small change in comparison.

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