Youth unemployment as seen by a Spanish Bishop
The European Union has announced that the situation of unemployed young people is improving. What is the situation in Spain?
The recent economic crisis has destroyed huge numbers of jobs in Spain, especially those for the youngest workers. Currently, overall unemployment stands at just under 20% as compared to approximately 10% in 2008. When the figures are analysed more closely, one can appreciate that young workers have been hit the hardest: the youth employment rate is currently around 42% whereas in 2008 it averaged at 21%.
There is no doubt that because of this sensitive situation, many young people have seen their dreams and personal ambitions crushed. A lack of stable jobs means that they cannot leave their parental home and thus establish their own family. As a result, they live in a situation of permanent instability that does not do anybody any good.
For this reason, during the next few years we must focus all our efforts on helping and supporting them so that they can improve their situation. We must pay attention to our children and teenagers, because in a few years they will be the adults of our society.
What are the long-term consequences of this exclusion of the young generation?
For sure, the economic crisis is turning into a crisis concerning the credibility of our democratic institutions. We are witnessing how democracy throughout the world is not in a particularly healthy state, and how many people are losing faith in our political institutions.
We have to create more flexible institutions that can be adapted to the current needs of young people, to prevent them from distancing themselves and losing all interest in public life. If we fail to do this, we will be plunged into an even more individualistic society. One widely held opinion among many young people is: “If I don’t count for anything in society, then society cannot count on me.”
Spain has just elected a new government: will that have any effect on youth unemployment?
The greatest difficulties facing Spain are essentially structural, and reveal the inherent weakness of a model that relies on low-skilled and casual jobs. It is a model that does not adequately distribute wealth, and that lacks sufficient policies to protect the family.
That is why a new government is significant. However, we need to be very aware that a medium-long term perspective is needed, an approach that goes beyond the short-term vision of generating growth and employment at all costs.
Protecting the most vulnerable people and families must be a priority for all. We cannot forget that we live in a large community and that we must all help each other to get ahead.
Apart from young people on the dole, are there going to be many young Spaniards working in precarious jobs?
Certain precarious jobs within a developed labour market can operate as a “springboard” for certain groups of people who need to build up more skills or experience.
However, the problem arises when so much of the labour market is precarious. When this happens, it becomes evident that precarious employment is a “job trap” since it grips those who fall into it. A number of studies show that people who entered the precarious labour market in Spain are still there seven or eight years later, in the same sort of insecure jobs.
The high levels of precarious work means that just over 14% of Spanish workers live below the poverty line. Behind this stark statistic we find many people who need help in order to have a decent life. The personal situation of each one of these people has direct consequences for society and that is why we must find a solution so that these low-paid workers can have a better life. We cannot leave them behind.
What is the Church doing at local level to improve the situation for young people?
The economic crisis has made our young people disoriented, distrustful, and lacking in self-esteem and confidence. They hold out little hope for their future.
Through Caritas, training and employment programmes are being developed that go further than just making it easier to learn a trade. They offer an integral training that addresses aspects of personal development. The aim of these programmes is to offer an alternative to the usual standardised educational training methods by equipping participants with necessary social and psychological attitudes, as well as professional skills, in order to improve employability.
These examples demonstrate that the Church is aware of problems facing young people and strives with hope and generosity to help them escape situations of unemployment. Young people are the future of both our society and of the Church, so we cannot just leave them to fend for themselves.
+ Juan José Omella i Omella
Archbishop of Barcelona
and President of the Comisión Épiscopal
de Pastoral Social(Episcopal Pastoral Social Commission)
Translated from the original text in Spanish
The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Office.