The Dark Underbelly of Spain’s Jobs Recovery

Where Did All the Workers Go?

Two years ago, the total number of unemployed in Spain, officially speaking, was 5.5 million — the equivalent of 23.2% of the country’s active population. It was the second-highest unemployment rate in the EU, far worse than third-place Hungary (18.5%) but not quite as terrible as Greece (26%).

At that time, Spain was also proud home to the five European regions with the worst levels of unemployment. At the top of the heap was the southern province of Andalusia whose unemployment rate was close to 35%! Even fifth place, Castilla-la Mancha, had an unemployment rate of 29%.

Now, after two years of consecutive quarters of robust GDP growth and an unprecedented tourist boom, things appear to have changed. At last count, unemployment was down to 17.2% — still depression-level, but no longer apocalyptic! For the first time since 2008 the number of unemployed in Spain is below four million. Even in Andalusia things are apparently improving since the region’s ranks of jobless have shrunk by 160,800 in the last year.

This is all welcome news in a country with such chronic unemployment problems, but there are two important caveats: first, the active population in Spain continues to shrink, and that has an important hand in the improving figures; second, almost all of the new jobs that are being created are of the poorly paid and insanely precarious kind

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