Austerity pushes Spain’s youth toward becoming a ‘lost generation’
Despite having a bachelor’s degree, five years of professional experience and speaking three languages, Paloma Fernandez has joined the swelling ranks of Spain’s “lost generation” that can’t find work in a grinding recession.
The 28-year-old, who has a degree in translation, lost her job of four years at the justice ministry in December 2011 and as of last month she lost the right to collect unemployment benefits.
Since losing her job she has sent out dozens of resumes for jobs as a translator, administrative assistant or receptionist but has not had any luck.
“Sometimes you feel like yelling: ‘I want a job, I want to have a routine!’ We always complain about routines but when you don’t have it, you miss it,” said Fernandez.
Many other Spanish youths find themselves in the same situation.
The unemployment rate for those between the ages of 16 and 24 has soared to 57.22 percent, and a record 27.16 percent overall, at the end of the first quarter as the country struggles through a double-dip recession sparked by the collapse of a decade-long building boom in 2008.
“It is probably a generation, I don’t know if you should call it lost, but which will mark a before and after the crisis” in terms of consumption and lifestyle habits, said Sara Balina, chief economist for Spain at Madrid-based consultancy Analistas Financieros Internacionales.
As an example she points out that young people are putting off the age at which they move out of home since they struggle to find stable employment.
Fernandez shares a bright but sparsely decorated flat that she rents for 400 euros ($520) a month from her family in Moratalaz, a Madrid suburb, with her boyfriend who is also unemployed, and a cat called Rayo.
“It is very unstable and I don’t know what my life plan is. I apply for jobs and I can’t make major long-term plans, not even short-term plans,” she said, adding thinking of having children now “would be crazy”.
Fernandez, who is already fluent in English and French in addition to her native Spanish, tries to keep busy by learning Japanese, attending fitness classes and tutoring students in languages to earn some money.
Rocio Alarcon, who completed a degree in political sciences last year with the third highest grade in her class, shares her worries.
The 23-year-old, who lives with her parents in Getafe, a Madrid suburb, had hoped to find a job to contribute to the family’s budget and to save to pay for a master’s degree which she will begin in September.
“I didn’t aspire to work as a political scientist from the beginning. But the fact is that out of all the resumes I sent, I have not been called for any interview,” said Alarcon, adding employers usually ask for a high level of English and previous work experience.
“It is a curious thing to ask for previous experience from young people who have just finished their studies. They have not given us time to get any experience.”
Like many young out of work Spanish youths, Alarcon plans to look for work abroad once she completes her master’s degree if she can’t find a job in Spain, a trend that worries experts who fear the country is losing its talent.
“I will look for work wherever. If it is in Spain great and if it is abroad I would have no problem,” she said.
Fernandez said she had always been open to working abroad but now sees it as a necessity.
“Going abroad attracts me but right now it is not a question of tastes, it is the only option I have. The feeling that you are being forced to go or that you have no option is the hardest part,” she said.
From the beginning of 2012 to the end of March, some 365,000 Spaniards between the ages of 16 and 29 have left the country, according to the National Statistics Institute.
With Spain in need of a change in its economic model, the loss of young people with university studies represents the loss if “one of the key elements for growth, which is human capital,” said Balina.
“We can’t have a situation where young people with higher education who can help revitalise sectors that Spain needs to grow, are the ones to abandon the country,” she added.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]