Spain: the birth of the “paro” generation
Cristina Artoni - 19/03/2010
“Hi, I’ll introduce myself, I’m Pau, and I’m part of the “paro” generation” (unemployment generation). Born in Barcelona where he grew up, this 23 year old young man gets along working in bars of the Catalan capital waiting to find a job in his domain: “I’m a computer specialist but the web design company where I used to work lasted only three months. It closed down in two weeks. If things continue to be like this, we will be a whole generation in these conditions.”
When things are doing well, we call them “paro generation”. Otherwise, the young Spaniards are described more bluntly as “cannon fodders” of a system that has huddled up on itself.
Like a constant rising tide, month after month, the crisis has flooded the whole Iberian Peninsula. Initially, the areas considered as being the most at risk have been affected like the Basque Country and Andalusia but the rest of Spain has also been affected quite quickly. A crisis that is not only ruining entire families but is also creating a generation of unemployed obliged to use unemployment benefits to survive. Until the beginning of 2010, the Zapatero government had succeeded to maintain its equilibrium in spite of the economic data plunged in the red. However, in February, after the access to the European Union presidency, the collapse of the Spanish stock exchanges has compromised the image that had been so well preserved in Madrid, bringing out the contours of a deep crisis. Spain is currently facing the worst recession since half a century (-3.6%, on the annual basis of 2009), and the most lasting since the G20, among which, she’s the only country that has not yet regained growth. We are facing the biggest fall in consumer prices since 1952.
Five hundred thousand unsold houses. And above all, the biggest job cuts that the national statistics had ever seen (in December, four thousand jobs were lost per day, -6.7% on an annual basis). From now on, these 19% unemployed, of whom 40% youngsters, weigh intolerably upon public finances and contribute in a very significant manner to a deficit that amounts to 11.7% of the GDP. No financial guru predicted this misfortune; but two of the most listened to economists, Paul Krugman and Nouriel Roubini reckon that today, it’s in Spain more than in Greece where the economy of the Euro zone highly risks to collapse.
In this gloomy picture, the figures for youth unemployment are impressive: one in three does not work while until last year the unemployed youngsters were one in five. Consequently, from now on, the expression “cannon fodder” is closer to reality. Today, in Spain, youth are victims of a society that is not closed to a possible future if not a future founded on the most savage insecurity. For those who want to avoid living in this instability, the only way out is to pack up one’s belonging, “largar adelante” (move on to something else) and leave Spain behind.
The “paro” generation thus fends between different temporary contracts. There are indeed three youngsters out of four, aged from 16 to 19 that find themselves imprisoned in one of these ultra-precarious contracts (74%). Those a bit older, between 20 to 24 years old whose demands in terms of access to independence are more imperious, are less numerous (54%). Deprived of guarantees, these young people are the first to fall into unemployment: out of the 1 800 000 jobs lost during these past two years of crisis, 1 500 000 were seasonal contracts.
Moreover, as the Union of Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) explains: “precariousness” entails other dimensions that go beyond the stability of work”. As a matter of fact, those who succeed in entering the market of work have to bear a long list of abuses, that have become normal, such as low salaries, the exploitation during false internships or false “training” contracts”. It is more and more difficult to talk of belief in the future even in the case of young Spaniards who have been brought up in an atmosphere of hope after the dark decades of Franquismo. “I don’t know what’s worse: if it’s the decision of the 700 00 unemployed young Spaniards to protest in the streets in order to reclaim work, or if it’s their choice to stay at home and get stuck in what the experts call “the confidence crisis effect””, declares the writer Roman Orozco.
But their mistrust has become a national emergency to the extent that today, more than ever, we are heaped up by polls, debates and surveys. The resulting image is quite frightening. For example, in the Basque country, over 12 000 young unemployed in the region are under 25 years. In Euskadi, the main problem is employment, while terrorism and violence are relegated to fourth place. 51% of young people describe their living conditions these months from “bad” to “very bad”. The result is a total disaffection for the parties to the extent that 80% of the interviewed youngsters feel “little” or “not at all interested” in politics. Even in Andalusia, the atmosphere is so heavy that the former Labour Minister Manuel Pimentel spoke of “national emergency”. Even in my worse nightmares, I would have never suspected that we would come up to this rate of unemployment”. In less than two years, the “unemployed” reached the 26.42%. Facing these economic difficulties, many young people who had gained their independence resort to return under their parents’ wing. According to the citizen’s rights defender of the Province of Malaga, Francisco Gutierrez, in Spain’s Southern regions, family still remains the “life buoy of the social situation that the country is currently going through”.
Madrid aims at stimulating the economy by trying for example, in the regions like Andalusia, to stimulate the driving resources such as tourism. However, this doesn’t seem to be sufficient to revive the economic system. Even a rich region like Catalonia which is one of the most fashionable destinations of the past six years thanks to Barcelona, has felt the international crisis. Unemployment concerns 28.1% of young Catalans that are twice more subject to temporary contracts than adults. “They say the worst is yet to come, explains Pau, and that it would be the middle class’ turn. They will experience the feeling of being lost… “a la calle” (to the street)”.