Spain is a better country today than it was 30 or 40 years ago. Young people live in a richer society than that of their parents or grandmothers, healthier, more cosmopolitan and much freer. But this progress does not prevent us from pointing out what does not work: Spanish youth face problems that have dragged on for decades, such as unemployment or school dropouts, and others that have worsened lately, such as having to live with their parents. Next we review the data.
1. Young people are now a group at risk of poverty. It is proof of how the distribution of income between generations has changed: the age group with the most economically vulnerable people is no longer the elderly or retired, but young people between 20 and 29 years old.
The change occurred in the 2010 crisis. Since then, the percentage of people of retirement age living with relatively low incomes or at risk of exclusion has halved, from 31% to 16%. But the opposite has happened with young people, which has worsened: today one in three adults between 20 and 29 years old lives in a vulnerable situation.
In addition, there are subgroups in a worse situation, as Pablo Simón, editor of the report Youth in Spain: “Young people are not a homogeneous whole, not all are equally vulnerable.” The risk of poverty or exclusion is three times higher for people who did not finish high school than for university students; just as you are more likely to have a good job if your parents did too. Another extreme case is young people of immigrant origin, because almost half are at risk of poverty (45%, compared to 20% of those born in Spain).
This risk metric partly measures inequality. Household members are at risk if their income is below 60% of the country’s median, after adjusting for the number of people. Also if they are severely deprived or if they live in homes where work is severely lacking. In other words, a third of young people are poor in some of these senses, and that has consequences, as we will see, but also an ancient cause: a dysfunctional labor market.
2. The constant: Spain suffers from abnormal unemployment in Europe. It is a recurring issue, but that does not make it less important. Our country has one of the worst unemployment and temporary employment figures on the continent. Also for young people: almost 30% are unemployed (the fourth worst figure in Europe, only behind Montenegro, Greece and Macedonia) and half of those who work do so on temporary rather than permanent contracts (more than anyone except Montenegro ).
Spain has spent several decades exhibiting terrible unemployment and temporary employment figures, without ever finding formulas to solve it. In the European Union, only three countries have ever surpassed 20% unemployment since the eighties: Poland in 2002, Greece between 2013 and 2017, and Spain in 1985 and 1986, in 1993, 1994, 1995 and from 2011 to 2015.
There are also regional differences, as shown by the unemployment map in Europe. The south of the continent has the highest unemployment rates, in Spain, Italy, Greece or Turkey. Spain has 5 regions among the 16 with the most youth unemployment in Europe: Ceuta and Melilla, which are the worst, followed by Andalusia, Extremadura and the Canary Islands.
3. Young people are living with their parents longer and longer. Spain stands out again (for the worse) in its emancipation figures. Fifteen years ago, half of the young people aged 25-29 lived with their parents, a high figure but which has since risen to 64%. In other words, two out of three young people live with their parents. In Europe only Italy, Greece and some Balkan countries such as Montenegro have worse figures. The Nordic countries are very far away, where only 5% of young people are still in the family home, but also neighboring countries such as France (17%), the United Kingdom (25%) or Germany (30%).
One reason for this delay is money. Young people themselves say it: 75% confirm that if they have not left home, it is due to lack of economic stability, according to the 2019 Injuve survey. And we know from official statistics that many of those who achieve emancipation do so with income low: 32% of young people who have become independent are at risk of poverty, compared to 18% of those who remain with their parents.
Those who have left, when asked, explain that they did so because they had the means or because they were leaving to study abroad. It is an obvious fact, but again it reminds us that there are also classes among young people.
4. Young households have become impoverished. Another sign of their difficulties is found by looking at those who have left home. In Spain, there are 4% of households where the main salary is provided by a man or a woman between 20 and 29 years old. Those households were the richest in 1990 and have now become the lowest-income.
5. Young people weighed down in a country that is better. The graph above summarized an apparent paradox: many young households have become poorer compared to their parents’ now, but at the same time it is true that many Spaniards are richer than three decades ago.
Our country is far from perfect, but it is difficult to deny its progress since the eighties and nineties, when the parents of today’s youth were young. As the data in the last table show, Spain is healthier (we live nine more years), richer (the average income rose 50%) and freer (almost no one says that divorce or homosexuality is wrong) .
Perhaps the challenge is to rethink the generational cast. If we imagine a 27-year-old privileged young man, perhaps an opponent who would like to be something else, it is easy to feel that our society treated him better as the son of his parents than as the father of their future children. And if we think of someone underprivileged, perhaps a young woman who had to work as soon as she arrived from another country, we have to understand that she will be among the most vulnerable in our country. Their problems are suffered above all by them, but reflection can go further because the opportunities they lack will be paid for by their children and perhaps many of us.