Relaciones Internacionales – Comunicación Internacional

Spain: the new underclass

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Tobias Buck’s  story in the Financial Times on April 24, 2013, about Francisco Perdones, a 16th year-old from Cebolla, a small town in the region of Castilla-La Mancha, did a poor favor to Spain’s image abroad and, though described a serious problem -«the growing ranks of the young, unskilled unemployed posing more than economic dangers»-, sounded as an exaggeration based on half-truths and ignorance of the local reality.

First, the crude undisputable public data mentioned by Buck

Economists believe the number of Spaniards out of work will have exceeded 6m in a population of 47m in the first quarter of the year, the highest since records began. The unemployment rate is creeping towards 27 per cent, while the share of young unemployed stands at a harrowing 55 per cent…

Amid this ocean of economic misery, one group stands out: young, unskilled workers like… Mr Perdones. According to official data, there are 1.8m Spaniards below the age of 30 who are looking for a job. Of those, more than half left school with only the most basic certificate, the ESO, or with no formal certificate at all. Many of them made a good living working on construction sites and in factories that produced the plaster, bricks, doors and windows for Spain’s property miracle. These jobs are now all but gone and few believe they will ever fully return.

The people left behind are coalescing into the hard core of a new Spanish underclass that will become more difficult to dissolve with every month that passes… more

In a society where, since the early 80’s, according to some of the most prestigious economists like Enrique Fuentes Quintana, the black economy always represented over 20% of total GNP, and national unemployment’s rates always doubled or trippled the EU’s average, it is not possible to be objective on the dark present without taking into accound the not so distant past, which the FT’s correspondent paints as a paradise on earth. Sincerely, with half of my family living in Castilla-La Mancha, I never saw young people in manual jobs making the money  his source Perdones talks about or bying such beautiful houses and luxury cars, except for those trafficking with drugs without being caught.

No objection, though, with some of the obstacles described by Buck to reduce the unemployment figures, in spite of the drastic drop in labour costs in the last two years.

Some of the structural problems that bedevil the Spanish labour market will, in any case, take a long time to unwind: one is the notorious gulf in the protection and rights enjoyed by workers on fixed contracts and temporary workers, a divide that encourages Spanish companies to hire and fire at short notice, without investing in the longer-term productivity of their workforce.

Another serious problem is the lack of incentives – and support – to get the unemployed back to work.

A permanent complain, in fact, of young Spaniards for many years, before the last economic shock, has been how difficult it war to earn enough money to buy an appartment and to gain independence from their parents….. more

More on this story in the FT

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