Internships have a lot going for them—they're great experience, there's crucial early-career networking and, in a worst-case scenario, they can help you figure out if you've made a poor choice of career.
Of course, doing gruntwork and not getting paid can take a little bit of the shine off, but these aren't actually the worst parts of an unpaid internship—and neither may be the fact that many internships are likely illegal. It's something that people have been writing about a lot in this economy: There seem to be fewer jobs and more unpaid internships and that gives advantages to employers and to intern candidates who can afford to go without pay for a bit. And there's plenty of advice out there saying not to do it to counter what advantages there may be.
Derek Thompson writes on some of the stickier problems of the unpaid internship.
Is it true that unpaid internships offer advantages to higher-income students who can afford to work for free, implicitly locking out low-income youths from important opportunities? Yes.
Is it true that life is unfair and low-income people are priced out of all sorts of educational opportunities, like tutors and expensive private schools, which are perfectly legal? Yes.
He also laments that the question of legality of various unpaid internships will remain unanswered for now.