Spain's Lost Millennial Generation? As Youth Unemployment Hits 50%, Spain's Future Could Suffer


A few days ago, Spain’s National Statistics Institute reported that the country’s unemployment had hit 5.3 million last December, or 22.8%. This is the highest unemployment rate in nearly two decades, and the highest jobless rate in the European Union. As if this data alone were not shocking enough,  unemployment amongst Spanish youth aged 16-24, currently stands at 48.6%.

While some measures have been taken to address this critical problem in Spain and others are under way, they have so far been insufficient, prompting thousands of young Spaniards to leave their country in search of a better future elsewhere. This exodus has raised a valid concern about brain drain, as it remains uncertain whether they’ll return to their home country once the economic situation improves. For those unable to leave, a doubtful future presents a disquieting scenario which worries me enormously.

Spain’s newly-elected conservative government has already announced new austerity measures and strict reforms, but as the country is likely headed into another recession, even the tightest measures will not be able to reverse this high unemployment trend as quickly as needed. This makes me wonder what will become of those young Spaniards who are unable to develop their careers and earn a living. It’s widely known that many Spaniards live at home with their parents often until they get married, but unless the situation improves, I fear the lack of employment and the vicious circle it creates (i.e. employers who say, “I’m looking for someone who has at least two years work experience but you have none, so you’re not qualified and I can’t hire you”) will suck them into a black hole of which it will be very difficult to emerge.

In view of this disheartening scenario, it is not surprising that movements such as the 15-M Movement — which protested the political and economic climate in Spain last year — were born. So far these protests have been rather peaceful,  but I fear for the young Spaniards who might turn to less peaceful activities — think of the riots in London at the end of last year — should their future remain so bleak. 

The Spanish government with its growing debt and limited resources is currently hard-pressed to help the young unemployed. Some help may come from the European Union. At the recent European Union Summit held in Brussels,  European Commission President Barroso urged EU leaders to use €82 billion in unspent structural funds from the EU's 2007-13 financial period to pay for programs that promote youth employment and help small businesses. With this in mind, he proposed the creation of “action teams” and asked member states to develop targeted plans that include specific measures to tackle these issues. These plans would then be included in the national reform programs that the individual countries have to submit to Brussels. It remains to be seen whether this will be effective, but at least it’s one attempt to address this urgent problem.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated her country’s determination to do everything in its hands to reduce youth unemployment across Europe. Last year she already proved her commitment to this issue when she announced that Germany — facing a labor shortage — would offer thousands of jobs to highly qualified unemployed Spaniards. Following this announcement, the Spanish government signed a cooperation agreement with Germany to encourage German companies to offer qualified Spaniards jobs,  particularly in the engineering, health, and tourism sectors. Within a few days of the signing, the German branch of the European employment agency Eures, received 3,000 e-mail applications — a clear indication of the interest to pursue more promising opportunities abroad. 

This scenario shows that the majority of young Spaniards who are able to, leave the country and look for jobs elsewhere. A recent poll conducted by Randstad, a global human resources company, found that 62% of Spaniards who don’t have a job are willing to leave Spain to find one elsewhere. In fact, according to Spain’s National Statistics Institute, for the first time since 1990, in 2011 more people left Spain than moved in. What is crucial is that most of those who leave — such as those relocating to Germany — are highly qualified and skilled individuals, which raises a reasonable concern about brain drain. Some analysts believe that these young people will return to Spain once the situation improves, but I have my doubts. At the time that I left, Spain was doing very well and it wasn’t unemployment that prompted me to leave the country, but after years of living abroad I already feel at home elsewhere and as much as I love Spain I can’t be certain that I’ll return for good — even once unemployment is no longer a problem. 

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