The problem is that we have setup an implicit class system. Those that can afford to work for free readily accept unpaid internships that advance their future career because they have the financial backing to pursue such opportunities. Those that cannot work for free (and most likely accruing significant college loan debt) take whatever job pays. As the number of high quality and relevant paid internships is few, the result is they work in jobs that do little to advance their prospects. It is a two-tier system that locks people into tracks not of their own making and chipping away at our meritocracy.
Even worse is the fact that we are creating an implicit expectation that working for free is okay and an acceptable business practice. We couch this in talking about the valuable “experience” gained and that this is some “rite of passage”. Interns should feel “privileged” for the opportunity to work for these great companies for nothing. The undercurrent however is that we are essentially devaluing people, their talent, and their work. We are devaluing individuals over institutions.