Spain shows that youth often bear brunt of bad labor market | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 11.06.2011
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Spain shows that youth often bear brunt of bad labor market

The economic downturn has hit young people in Spain particularly hard, with almost half of them unable to find a job. While the youth jobless rate is much lower in Germany - young people there lack job security.

A Spanish student camped out a protest

Spanish students camped out to protest a lack of jobs

While in many European countries, the level of unemployment among people from 15 and 24 is well above the national average, young people in Spain are particularly frustrated.

The jobless rate for people under 25 in Spain is 44 percent - the highest in the European Union. Many young people in Spain feel like they belong to a "lost generation" that is bearing the brunt of a crisis that wasn't of their making.

In Madrid, Barcelona, and other major cities, they have taken to the streets in recent weeks to express their discontent.

One reason behind the high jobless rate is an end to the boom in the construction industry - one of the key sectors of the Spanish economy. After the real estate bubble burst, new apartment construction fell by 70 percent.

People lined up at a Spanish job center

Unemployment has reached record levels in Spain

During the boom, many young people left school early, because they could earn good money working on the country's many construction sites. Now they are out of work.

Spain's situation, while severe, is not unique in Europe. In Greece, Ireland or Italy, around 30 percent of young people are out of work. In December the youth unemployment rate in 19 of the European Union's 27 states was above 20 percent.

Young hit hardest

According to Holger Schäfer, a labor market expert with the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, young people are often the first to lose their jobs when economic crisis hits.

"In crisis situations, young people have a harder time than other age groups because they haven't been with their companies as long," he said.

These workers are often on short-term contracts and often haven't had time to develop special skills and knowledge that are specific to that company. Thus, they are often the first to lose their jobs when downsizing becomes necessary.

According to Schäfer, there's not much that politicians can do about this in the short term. The most important thing for them to do is to take steps to help get the economy and the entire labor market moving again.

"When the overall labor market improves, the market for young people also improves significantly," he said.

In 2006, before the economic bust, Spain had a youth unemployment rate of 18 percent - less than half the current 44 percent.

German success

Compared to most other EU states, Germany has coped with the economic downturn quite well.

Germany's economy is growing, exports are booming and consumers are spending. The youth unemployment rate is under 10 percent - only Austria and the Netherlands boast comparable figures.

Many experts point to factors beyond Germany's robust economy for the low rate. Germany has a well-developed system of training young people for a trade in which they split their time between the classroom and workplace.

"I believe that the dual vocational training system is one of the best in the world, and gives young people who don't go to university good career opportunities," said Rene Rudolf, the head of the department of youth and youth policy at the German Federation of Trade Unions.

A worker at a machine

A strong German economy has helped keep the unemployment rate down

But at the same time he warns that the low unemployment figures for young people in Germany don't tell the whole story.

"Overall the rate of youth unemployment is very low in comparison with other European countries. But a high number of young people are in entry-level jobs, in precarious situations like temporary employment and are poorly paid, because there is still no general minimum wage," Rudolf said.

"This also means that if the German economy worsens again, they will be the first to face the threat of unemployment."

For now though, the German economy is booming, which has encouraged some unemployed Spanish academics to start looking for work in Germany.

But they're up against one major barrier - the language. Without German or at least English-language skills, their chances of breaking into the German work force are extremely limited.

Author: Nils Naumann / pfd
Editor: Kyle James

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