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Gen Y "Enslaved" by Explosion in Unpaid Internships?

Do Unpaid Internships Exploit Gen Y?According to the NY Times hiring is on the increase in one area at least: low-paid or unpaid internships. As a card carrying Gen Y myself, I didn't need the newspaper to tell me that. Any recent graduate can attest to the omnipresence of the internship and exactly how unavoidable a rite of passage multiple unpaid stints at various organizations seems to be. The unpaid internship is a reality yes, but is it fair?
At least one blogger and career coach declares absolutely not this week. On her blog Dorothy Dalton rails against "the enslavement of Gen Y" and writes about the numerous letters she has received from exploited interns around the world:

Not only are these young adults working for nothing , some are not even getting reimbursement of their travel expenses or a sandwich at lunchtime. The only light at the end of their very dubious tunnel is the promise of a reference, rather than a permanent job opportunity. In many cases there are no training programmes or even supervisory arrangements in place. One graduate I am in contact with is being supervised by another unpaid intern who has only six weeks more work experience than he does!
She concludes that for many organizations hiring unpaid interns amounts to, "a flagrant abuse of the economic downturn for corporate gain." Meanwhile on BNET's Intercom blog Stefan Deeran also takes up the issue, pointing out that besides being wrong, many unpaid internships are also illegal.

While I wouldn't go so far as to use the loaded word "enslavement," I would add that the practice is also deeply undemocratic, giving an extra leg up to those young people who have the economic resources to survive without pay, and ensuring that the workforce in competitive industries is skewed further towards the top end of the economic spectrum -- an outcome that certainly isn't good for less well off kids and also can't be good for businesses in need of fresh points of view and ideas.

Anyone want to step up and defend the unpaid internship? (Here's Seth Godin doing something of the sort, though his point is more "this is how it is, get over it" than "three cheers for the system.")

(Image of shackled hand by empirical_perception, CC 2.0)

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