Spain’s Wandering Lost Generation

Alexander Ostrovsky


This coming New Year will mark an important moment for Spain, as it will take a major step toward moving past years of economic and political turmoil that all began when the banking system collapsed. In the third quarter Spain successfully surfaced from two years of recession, and with signs of GDP growth Spain announced that it would be exiting out of the €100 billion rescue package for its banks that it accepted in 2012.


In fact, Spain will be exiting out of the bailout with only having used €41 billion of available loans. Moreover Spain declined a safety net from the European Stability Mechanism, which would have provided a precautionary reserve rescue line for any further support Spain might require.  With positive signs in the export sector of the economy, and the government confident about its fiscal future, the Eurozone’s fourth-largest economy might finally have found sustained means of getting back on track. The Telegraph reported that the “EU Economy and Euro Commissioner Olli Rehn told a press conference […] that the Spanish financial market had stabilized, liquidity of banks had improved and deposits were rising.” This is progress for a country that has encountered so much economic turmoil. Now Spain needs to build on its economic success and work on the most glaring issue that has marked this hardship.


The domestic employment outlook remains just as frustrating as close to six million Spaniards are unemployed, with a startling 56.1 percent youth unemployment rate. The youth unemployment rate in Spain is twice what it is in the rest of the Eurozone, and with such little prospects in their home country, most are choosing to leave. In the first few years of the Spanish crisis most of the unemployed had chosen to remain in Spain and relied on two-year redundancy packages to survive.


However many of the payments from the redundancy packages have ended with little luck of the unemployed actually finding any work if they remained in their home country. As the Guardian stated, “unemployment is so entrenched that there was no political reaction to the latest figures, neither from government nor the opposition. Indeed, mentioning the economy at all has become virtually taboo across the political spectrum. Meanwhile, Spaniards and recent immigrants are deserting the country in search of work [.]”


Spanish youths are leaving in great numbers with a majority choosing one specific location above all, the United Kingdom. Of course Spanish youths looking for work have taken many options into consideration. Latin America is a popular destination, especially considering the language benefits associated with going to another Spanish-speaking country. There are many opportunities in Germany and much of northern Europe that have economies hiring qualified people. Australia also just set up a work visa program to increase the amount of Spanish natives seeking work.

Despite the other options, the United Kingdom has remained the most popular destination. In fact, The Telegraph reported that, “the number of officially registered Spanish residents in the UK jumped from 57,350 at the end of 2009 to 73,659 by the end of 2012, although the real number is estimated to be 150,000.” Moreover, recent figures from late November show that Spaniards registering for a National Insurance number in the UK jumped 50 percent year over year. The vast mass of these young economic refugees are highly educated, overly qualified and working menial jobs in the UK just to survive. The demographics show that the majority of these Spanish emigrants have at least a Bachelors degree, with many holding higher degrees in law, accounting, engineering, etc. The uptick of Spaniards in the UK is noticeable beyond the big cities with the unemployed searching out work wherever they can find it.


The stories of many of these young Spanish youths follow a similar pattern. The Bristol Post, a local newspaper in England published a Bio of a 27-year-old from Albacete named Carlos who despite an economics degree is working in construction in Keynsham, England. “Carlos said he moved here this year with a view to learning English and eventually using his skills in economics to find a job which suits him best. […] But for the meantime he gratefully works in construction, building Keynsham's new police station.”


Stories like this have become commonplace in England. The Telegraph wrote about Pilar Mártinez who has a law degree but works as a waitress in southeast London. Pilar and Carlos moved to the United Kingdom because the minimum wage is highest among available options, and the opportunity to learn English (coupled with the academic accomplishments that they have already achieved) opens up a great deal of career opportunities in the long run. English being a core language for business and much of international affairs is a great asset that will only work to benefit the Spanish immigrant workers, and even more so benefit the UK as a whole.

This massive group, especially if they choose to stay in their new environments, can have a massive economic effect on the United Kingdom. The Spanish unemployed youths who left for the UK cannot be considered underqualified, nor are they lacking in talent.


Over the course of the next decade Carlos and Pilar can very well find jobs that suit their education levels; and along with the thousands of Spanish economic refugees bring to the United Kingdom human capital and a knowledge curve that can create a far-reaching competitive workforce beyond that of other contending countries.


NBC explained how, “‘Spain is losing many valuable people with brains, with a lot to do and offer,’ said Laura Belenguer Ortiz-Villajos, a 27-year-old job-seeker and Master’s student in radio. ‘People of my generation need to put into practice what is in their heads, and in Spain this is very hard to do.’”


As Spain undergoes a brain drain due to their inability to provide jobs, the UK, as well as the rest of the world, stands to benefit from the abilities of the millions of young educated Spanish citizens willing to relocate for work. A strong prediction can be made that a decade from now, these immigrant workers, who consider themselves part of a “Lost Generation” in Spain, will be thriving in their new countries, and unfortunately this will be at the expense of their Spanish homeland.


Author Bio:

Alexander Ostrovsky is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.


Photos: Ceullar (Flickr); Two Steps Beyond (Flickr); Gilus PL (Flickr); Dimnikolov (Flickr).

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