“There are kids my age who have nothing to do,” says 23 year-old Sandra Navarro-Garcia. A lifelong resident of Valencia, the third largest city in Spain, Navarro-Garcia spoke to me about the problems facing her peers. “Few of us have jobs, and those of us who do work in the summer or part-time during our studies. It’s been like this for years.”
In Spain, this reality is all too familiar for young adults, with a youth unemployment rate currently standing at 45.3%. The eight-year economic crisis has created a “lost generation” of Spaniards, students and recent graduates under 34 years old with little work and few opportunities for occupation. Fellow citizens characterize them by “depression, disillusionment, and anxiety,” a phrase that starkly captures the age group’s massive insecurities. While several other European countries have bounced back from the crash in 2008, Spain’s economy has remained stagnant. Its general unemployment rate, at 22.7%, is the second highest in Europe, after Greece.
Joblessness is visible in daily life in Valencia. While the city has a fairly large population of young adults and young families, the path to economic stability for many is unclear, and anxiety over the future is prevalent. Students at the University of Valencia see little hope for employment after graduation, as the few jobs that remain require previous experience they are unable to obtain. Graduates with degrees ranging from mechanical engineering to literature face instability, with many forced to switch career tracks after receiving their diploma.
Additionally, most young people in Valencia, and in Spain, are unable to move out and afford their own homes. A recent report by the Council of Youth in Spain estimated that eighty percent of those under 30 still live with their parents, and the average person in this age group would have to earn 95.6% more than their current salary to buy their own home. “It’s the sensible option,” said a student at the Catholic University of Valencia. “Many stay with their parents until they move in with a significant other, it’s just too expensive to live alone with the crisis.” Experts warn this trend will harm the housing market along with creating a generation of youth frustrated with their lack of independence.
Navarro-Garcia described how many of her friends have exited the country in search of new opportunity. “It’s unfortunate because the economy forces them to leave their homes, their family, and their friends. For some, it’s more of a necessity than a choice.” In 2013, Spanish think tank Fundacion estimated that 700,000 people had left the country since 2008. The vast majority of those who left the country in 2014 found new jobs in England, France, and Germany. Emigration has contributed to a declining Spanish population, a trend that prolongs the crisis and prevents recovery. Today’s decline comes after the population increased by 7.2 million people in the early 2000s, when immigrants from Latin America formed the largest growth in population in Europe at the time. Less than two decades later, these same immigrants are also leaving the country along with Spanish youth, as they face similar levels of joblessness.
Concerns loom about the long-term effects of Spanish emigration. The young and educated are leaving the country, and the “brain-drain” may hurt future economic performance and production. In addition, the aging Spanish population has the potential to overwhelm large social welfare systems; with declining numbers of youth and immigrants, some wonder how the government programs will sustain themselves.
For now, young Spaniards remain at a crossroads. Membership in the “Ni Ni” generation has grown in recent years, named for the Spanish young adults who neither have degrees in higher education or lower-skilled jobs, “Ni estudia, ni trabaja.” Others, including highly-educated counterparts, may choose to stay in Spain and hope for an improving economy, or search for new opportunity elsewhere, leaving their home behind.