Spain's lost generation: youth unemployment surges above 50 per cent
More than half of young Spaniards are out of work, according to fresh statistics, signalling a lost generation that has been hit hardest by Spain's economic woes, as the total number of unemployed surged above five million.
The number of 16-24 year old Spaniards out of work rose to 51.4 per cent in December, more than double the European Union average, according to a report by Spain's National Statistics Institute. The national unemployment rate hit 22.85 per cent, the highest rate in nearly 17 years and the current highest in the industrialised world.
Spain's young have been dubbed 'generacion cero' or 'the ni-nis' – neither in work nor full time education- and for many their only hope of seeking a better future is moving abroad, sparking fears of a brain drain.
"This is the least hopeful and best educated generation in Spain," said Ignacio Escolar, author of the country's most popular political blog and former editor of the newspaper Publico. "And it's like a national defeat that they have to travel abroad to find work."
When the crisis began in 2008, Spain's under-25 unemployment rate was below 18 per cent but it has nearly tripled within four years as Spain's housing boom collapsed and it sank into recession.
Young Spaniards are now living in the family home longer than ever before, pushing the average age of independence from their parents to well into their thirties.
"These people are delaying their advance into adulthood. It's a very scary time for young people," said Sara Elder an economist with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) which published a report into youth unemployment around the world.
"They find the path that worked for their parents is not working for them."
The ILO report, published last October, warned that the consequences of mass youth unemployment could be dire.
"Increased crime rates in some countries, increased drug use, moving back home with the parents, depression – all of these are common consequences for a generation of youth that, at best, has become disheartened about the future, and, at worst, has become angry and violent," it said.
Spain already has one of the highest rates of cannabis and cocaine usage among its young in western Europe.
The botellon, the social activity for younger people of drinking alcohol in public areas such as the streets, has also increased in popularity leading to police clampdowns.
Young Spaniards led the protests throughout last summer, setting up camps in plazas across Spain in the movement that became known as "Los Indignados" – the Indignant ones.
They complain that even a university degree leaves no guarantee of finding work.
"When you go to university, you develop very high expectations, and then you leave and get a reality check," says Tomás Muñoz, a 25-year old graduate of Alicante University and a spokesman for the Juventud Sin Futuro (Youth without a future) platform.
Analysts warn that youth joblessness could have a devastating effect on a nation that needs a dynamic young workforce to help economic recovery and lead Spain out of recession.
"It's a problem not just for them, but for all of us," believes economics professor Gayle Allard from the Instituto de Empresa in Madrid.
"This is the generation that will be paying for the welfare state and pensions in the future. If they can't get started with relatively secure, well-paying jobs, start to put away some savings, start to accumulate assets, start paying into the welfare system, where does that leave the rest of us?"