Spain is characterized by having the highest total unemployment and youth unemployment rates of the neighboring countries. In fact, youth unemployment is considered by many to be the biggest problem facing our job market today. However, without underestimating the high rates of youth unemployment, which today reach 35%, the evidence indicates that unemployment becomes a problem of enormous importance when the people who suffer it become chronic. This problem mainly affects people over 30 years of age, and in particular those over 45, but fortunately, people under 30 years of age are relatively little affected by remaining unemployed for long periods, unless the economic situation is particularly adverse. On the other hand, young people do experience too often, even in periods of strong economic activity – such as the years 2015-2019 – continuous falls to unemployment as a result of the job insecurity to which they are exposed. These episodes are the ones that mostly cause the high unemployment rates to which they are subjected.
It is necessary to specify what is understood by job insecurity, as this can manifest itself in various ways. Undoubtedly, the perception of low wages for each hour worked is a clear dimension of job insecurity. But working less than the hours one would like in a given period is also a manifestation of job insecurity. A person may face unwanted low work intensity due to their continuous entry into unemployment after the end of their temporary contracts, which, incidentally, are increasingly shorter. You also suffer from unwanted low work intensity when people are hired part-time even wanting a full day. But a precarious situation at the beginning of working life worries to a greater or lesser extent depending on whether it “heals” or not with age. If the job insecurity suffered by young people today leaves consequences in their future employment, then it is essential to try to tackle it to avoid future situations of poverty, inequality of opportunities, low birth rates due to the delay in emancipation and even deficiencies in the system of pensions.
In a recent study carried out by the ISEAK Foundation, we have analyzed the degree of job insecurity suffered by young people in Spain and studied the possible consequences that it leaves them in their future working life. To do this, we have followed their work trajectories from the beginning until ten years later and we have focused mainly on the evolution of their hourly wages and the total hours worked each year.
To offer some figures, practically half of young people in Spain work the equivalent of less than six months during their second working year. For men, the root cause is job instability: short-term jobs that cause high rotations between employment and unemployment. For women, in addition to this reason, must be added that of part-time hiring, which has been growing persistently in the last decade. Although it is true that after five years the work intensity grows notably (for those who are still in a job), we still find that 20% of young people continue to work the equivalent of less than six months a year. This proportion decreases to 10% after ten years. In other words, the study shows that partiality or interrupted periods of employment are the main culprits of the chronification in the precariousness of our young people.
With regard to the evolution of hourly wages, another essential element of precariousness, 70% of young Spanish people at the beginning of their working life do not exceed nine euros / hour (in real terms of 2015). After ten years of experience, 40% of them continue with hourly wages below this amount. As a reference, we will say that the minimum wage in force today is slightly below seven euros / hour. These figures show, firstly, the enormous job insecurity in terms of wages that affects a large part of our youth and, secondly, that this situation is very persistent over time.
Another interesting result of the study is the impact of economic crises on both the job insecurity of young people and the consequences that this has. As might be expected, in the midst of the recession, the levels of precariousness increase. However, the study shows that the consequences of precariousness at the beginning are doubled for people who access a job for the first time during an economic crisis. In other words, recessions not only affect the present, but their consequences are prolonged in the long term.
In view of the results, it goes without saying that it is necessary to implement preventive actions to avoid the risk of job insecurity (present and future) among the youth of our country. Given the importance of unwanted low work intensity in job insecurity, it is crucial to insist on the need for greater job stability from the start, reducing episodes of unemployment and involuntary part-hours. Likewise, for those who fall into unemployment, it is vital to guide and re-qualify if necessary for an early labor insertion that avoids long episodes of unemployment. Furthermore, given that the risk of job insecurity is fundamentally associated with low educational levels, it is necessary to promote higher educational levels for young people and prevent school dropouts. Finally, women absorb job insecurity to a greater extent, especially in the form of part-time contracts, so addressing the problems of occupational segregation and high female bias would undoubtedly contribute to reducing job insecurity. Measures of this type would solve, not only a problem already known in the present, but also, as this study shows, future problems of job insecurity.
Sara de la Rica, Lucía Gorjón and Ainhoa Osés are members of the ISEAK Foundation