The recession has widened the gap between Europe’s wealthier and poorer regions. Statistics released this week by Eurostat on regional unemployment accurately reflect the fact that Spain’s joblessness problem is far from over, despite continuing government assertions about a budding recovery. Andalusia is the European region with the highest jobless rate (36.3 percent) in 2013, followed by Ceuta (35.6 percent), Melilla (34.4 percent), the Canary Islands (34.1 percent) and Extremadura (33.7 percent). Five Spanish regions top the unflattering unemployment charts, which gives a sense of the worrisome situation of the Spanish economy. And that is not all; among Europe’s top-10 regions in terms of joblessness, there are two more Spanish regions: Castilla-La Mancha in sixth place and Murcia in ninth.
Eurostat’s regional findings leave no room for triumphant attitudes; instead, they underscore the very small effect of our weak economic recovery on what represents the Spanish economy’s most serious problem, today and probably for the next five years.
It is not that Spain is the European economy with the highest unemployment; Greece holds that title with a rate of 27.5 percent. But endemic joblessness seems to have a strong hold on Spanish regions, for structural reasons that economists and the government should analyze in depth.
It will probably take a decade to return to pre-crisis job levels
Europe’s recipe for dealing with the financial crisis, including budget adjustments, austerity and cuts to the welfare state, is depressing the above-mentioned regions even more, as they are less well prepared to create stable jobs. Macroeconomic policies that focus solely on correcting national deficits have completely disregarded the starting differences between each nation’s regions. Such differences demanded selective decisions (guided investment, discriminating cuts) to avoid making regional inequality even worse.
Besides, there are serious reservations regarding the quality and strength of our budding economic recovery. Spain is the European country with the highest number of involuntary part-time contracts. It is not just that Spanish unemployment has reached such a point that it will probably take a decade to return to pre-crisis levels; it’s also that future jobs will likely be of very low quality. If the recession seemed like an opportunity to correct imbalances, then so far it looks like that opportunity has been missed.