THE BLOG

Unemployment in Spain: a Big Job for the Upcoming Government

"There's still food in the fridge, but we don't know if we will be able to pay the rent next month", says José Alfredo Jiménez, 43, a carrier who has been unemployed for two years now. He has five children and a wife, Dori, 39, who used to work as a healthcare professional and doesn't have a job either. In Spain, there are 1.4 million families with all their members out of work. The unemployment affects 21.5 percent of the workforce, the worst rate since 1996 and the highest among the European countries, including the ones that had to be bailed out (Greece, Portugal and Ireland). The Spanish unemployment rate is, in fact, the worst in the developed countries. This will be the most important challenge for the upcoming president´s to be elected on November 20th.

Last month, Jiménez received 120€ (around $165), the last amount of his unemployment benefit of 420€ ($578). This issue was extensively argued by the two main candidates during the TV presidential debate. The center-left candidate argued that the conservatives will withdraw the unemployment benefit if they win -- which, according to the latest polls, is most likely to happen. "You're lying", answered the representative of the conservatives, as the unemployment is the main highlight of their campaign. Their electoral program, although, doesn't clarify this subject. There are more than 1.5 million people without any unemployment benefit in the country, meaning they don't have any income at all.

But, why is unemployment in Spain so high? The world crisis is culprit of a great deal of this dramatic situation, but it's not enough to explain it all. Construction and the real-estate market had been Spain's driver for growth since the 90s. The "Spanish miracle" rose GDP around 4 percent a year. Millions of jobs were created due to this housing bubble. In 2007, the country had it's unemployment lowest rate, 7.95 percent.

Then, the crisis came and the bubble burst. Construction and tourism were responsible for more than half of the jobs destroyed during the crisis. Construction effaced alone 1.4 million jobs, but unemployment in Spain has always been a structural problem and a common factor in previous crises. The current one has contributed to uncover all the limitations of the labor market: low productivity and temporary jobs, mostly unqualified.

José Alfredo and Dori were employed under those conditions. But the housing bubble came with another unpleasant surprise. The prices decreased, their apartment depreciated. The real-estate market jammed and it was impossible for them to sell their house. As they couldn't afford the mortgage, they found a temporary solution: to rent their apartment in order to pay it, and live in another one -- heaping their five children in two small rooms.

At Jiménez's house not everything is misfortune. Their oldest daughter, María, 20, just found a job. She was lucky because the recession affects young people more than any other age group. 45 percent of people under 25 don't have a job. It's called the "lost generation": the most qualified ever, but without a future. It's the first time since the Civil War (1936-1939) that one generation will live worse than their parents. That's why, in May, thousands of people took the streets to protest against this situation. The 15M movement (precursor of Occupy Wall Street) was born and grew up with a disaffection towards politics. The solution for unemployment, nonetheless, can only be brought by authorities. And the Jiménez's family, like many others, is anxiously waiting for it.