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Spain's young people are leaving the country in droves - but will they come back?

Por: | 06 de mayo de 2014

Spain youth unemployment

Many young Spaniards are heading to Germany in search of better job opportunities. Eberhard Thonfeld.

Youth unemployment in Spain is currently at 57.7 percent, the second highest in Europe after Greece, forcing thousands of young people to try their luck abroad, leaving their families and friends in the hope of securing a decent job in a more economically stable country. 

For those young Spaniards still at university, their thoughts rest more and more on the future: what are their prospects, should they go abroad and if so, where?

Diego Sierra is typical of this young breed of Spaniard - a well-qualified English speaker who has experience of living abroad as part of an Erasmus year at Sheffield University in the UK, he is currently studying Telecommunications Engineering in Oviedo, having previously studied Industrial Technical Engineering. He knows what he will have to do post-university:

“Nowadays every well-qualified person is looking for a job outside of Spain as there is nothing promising here”. 

Everyone here knows someone who has a university degree, or even a postgraduate degree, yet has been forced to take unskilled service jobs after they graduate, for lack of anything better:

“If you are one of the best you can get a mediocre job here or a great career opportunity in another country”, Sierra says. 

The rise of the ‘mileurista’ - an employee with a €1,000 salary - has been well documented in the Spanish media ever since 27-year old Carolina Alguacil wrote a letter to El País in 2005 called ‘I am a mileurista’. She described the term, “...After several years you finally get a full time contract, but you won’t be earning more than 1,000 euros a month. But you’d better not complain. You won’t be saving any money; you can’t afford a car; and forget about children. You live from day to day”. 

The tragedy of the economic crisis in Spain is that the picture Alguacil painted back in 2005 has, if anything, only worsened in the subsequent nine years, which have seen Spain plunged into the depths of recession and rising numbers of Spaniards moving abroad. Where once young Spaniards would be earning a pittance, at least this was usually in their chosen field - these days they are lucky if they manage to get a job at the local supermarket. 

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy currently has an approval rating of just 18% according to Consulta Mitofsky, a Mexican consulting firm that released a roundup of world leaders’ approval ratings last month. Compare Rajoy’s 18% approval rating with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 70% and you start to realise just how unpopular the Spanish PM is at home. 

Rajoy employment figuresSpanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, presenting recent unemployment figures. Ricardo Gutiérrez. 

Diego Sierra thinks Spain’s government is missing out on using Spain’s young graduates to the best of their potential:

“I think the main problem is that they are trying to adapt the population to the job market and not the other way around. Spain has thousands of highly qualified young people but the government prefers to say ‘they are over-qualified’ than try to adapt and invest more in those areas where Spain could make huge profits and make the most of its young graduates”. 

Spain seems to be taking somewhat of a laissez-faire attitude to the many hundreds of young graduates it is losing to foreign countries each year, but perhaps the country should be making more of an effort to retain young graduates in order to prevent the inevitable brain drain looming on the horizon. 

Germany is one of the top destinations for young Spanish graduates. Alex Sorarrain Mendieta, from San Sebastian, has been working just outside Frankfurt as a mechanical engineer since late 2012. 

“Many young Spanish people are forced to go abroad to start their career” he says. “It is clear that the political management of the country caused this: corruption and more corruption”. 

With many young Spaniards blaming the Spanish government for getting them into this situation in the first place, you have to wonder how inclined they will be to return home once they have settled in a new country, often with much better career prospects. As Mendieta says,

“ is bad for the future of Spain because it is not assured that these people (young Spaniards) will come back, after Spain has invested a lot of money in them”. 

So rather than seeing a return on its investment in young people, Spain is instead witnessing its best and brightest leave for often much better career prospects abroad. 

Even immigrant populations who once saw Spain as the promised land are upping sticks and heading back to their home countries; 2013 saw the number of Spaniards living abroad rise by 6.6 % to over 2 million. Many of these are naturalised Spanish citizens moving back to their home countries, often in Latin America. 

Recent figures show a rise in both alcohol consumption and suicide among young Spaniards, a sign perhaps of the increasing frustration and helplessness sweeping through a whole generation. You have to remember that, while well-qualified and multi-lingual Spaniards can move abroad relatively easily, those who are less qualified and, commonly, do not speak a foreign language, find it much harder to leave Spain. 

With a rock-bottom approval rating and a brain drain crisis threatening to grip the country, Mariano Rajoy should not forget Spain’s young people - for it is this generation that will rebuild the country in the years to come. Spain cannot afford to keep losing them to the brighter futures they seek abroad - who knows if they will come back. 

Hay 5 Comentarios

The ever increasing red tape and the dreaded autonomo are also preventing youth from forming startups, other countries make starting a business much easier without crippling initial taxes and even tax breaks for the first 1-2 years. Why anyone would setup a business in Spain is beyond me

After 20 years out you still have found Spain as it was before? Really? Only the money from Eu has not produces this change, (not existing under your point of view). Are you looking for reasons to convince yourself of being out? Sorry, to say that. Probably there is lot of corruption, but also lot of people claiming for that, and the people will be able to change the current status. No doubt..

After 20 years out you still have found Spain as it was before? Really? Only the money from Eu has not produces this change, (not existing under your point of view). Are you looking for reasons to convince yourself of being out? Sorry, to say that. Probably there is lot of corruption, but also lot of people claiming for that, and the people will be able to change the current status. No doubt..

After 20 years out you still have found Spain as it was before? Really? Only the money from Eu has not produces this change, (not existing under your point of view). Are you looking for reasons to convince yourself of being out? Sorry, to say that. Probably there is lot of corruption, but also lot of people claiming for that, and the people will be able to change the current status. No doubt..

No, they will not come back, they should not come back, if they are smart and truly qualified. I left Spain 20 years ago and have just spent a sabbatical here. I don't see any improvement: it is still an economy based on tourism and construction, with a poor education system still focused on rote learning and completely oblivious to the changes the world has been going through in the last 50 years. Of course, the country is much richer now (thanks to all the money coming from the EU and from all the selling of real estate to foreigners). Of course, the food is great and the weather is fantastic. But the only way to really get ahead is by joining one of the political parties early on and partaking of the corruption. The socialists and the labor unions have opposed any aspiration to excellence, while the right wing party has managed to bring the country socially to the 1950s. In the process, members of both parties have filled their pockets with easy money and gotten into positions for which they were not qualified. So no, don't even think of coming back to raise your families in such a country. I know I won't.

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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