Spaniards under the age of 30 are poorer and more pessimistic than the “mileuristas” (a neologism for people earning €1,000 a month) of a decade ago, despite being better prepared for the workplace.
The 20-year-olds of today have been brought up with the word ‘crisis’ ringing in their ears, and many believe they will never be able to escape from it. But it is precisely because of this that they are all studying far more, believing the extra skills will help them face the future.
Sociology professor Luis Garrido
When comparing today’s 20-year-olds to those in their 20s prior to the crisis, two things stand out: the precarious nature of today’s working conditions, and the fact there are now far fewer youngsters. The deterioration in working conditions meant a drop in salaries for practically all employees between 2008 and 2016, but young people were the worst hit. The average salary among teenagers dropped by 28% during this period while the average salary among 20-to-24-year-olds went down by 15%, and by 9% in the 25-29 age bracket, according to the Annual Salary Structure Report.
The second biggest change is the fact the newest generation of workers is quite simply smaller. The Spanish Statistics Institute (INE) registered 4.8 million Spaniards between the ages of 20 and 29 at the start of this year – a drop of 30% compared to the 6.7 million registered in 2005.
“Precarious trends that began some time ago are getting worse,” says Carlos Gutiérrez, secretary of the youth affairs department at the labor union CC OO, which has just published #Generaciónmóvil, a study charting trends among today’s youth. The conclusion is that precarious conditions are no longer seen as transitory, but rather as something that has come to define today’s job market.
“There are two pillars on which a youngster plans his or her life: working conditions and the possibility of renting or owning a property. And working conditions, coupled with rental prices, have gotten worse in recent years.”
Job insecurity among today’s youth is due to temporary contracts and fluid positions. While the number of temporary contracts has fallen in the past decade overall, it has risen again among under-30s, overtaking pre-crisis figures. But the main feature in the workplace for twentysomethings is the part-time contract, which is largely unasked for and unwanted. During the crisis, job losses hit those in full-time employment the hardest. Hourly contracts for workers under 29 have since risen from 15% to 27%, according to CC OO, which has based its conclusions on official workforce surveys (EPA).
But sociology professor Luis Garrido believes the picture is far less bleak. According to his analysis, the rate of temporary contracts remained surprisingly steady in each demographic bracket for previous generations, and he sees no reason why this should change now. Nor will he entertain the popular notion of a lost generation. “We can’t speak about ‘a lost generation’,” he says. “It’s quite the opposite!” Garrido highlights two factors that put youngsters today in a more favorable position than their predecessors. The first is the numbers of them, particularly girls, going into higher education in the wake of the crisis; the second, a demand for skilled workers as a result of the population thinning out.
The lack of job prospects for school leavers means more students are continuing into higher education. While the number of males between the ages of 16 and 24 in employment equaled the numbers in education in 2006, this year 63% of 16-to-24-year-olds are still studying compared with just 15% in work. “Many youngsters say they feel desperate about the lack of prospects, but they have huge advantages,” says Garrido, who has spent years studying the EPA data. “For one thing, there aren’t many of them, and there is no better advantage than that.”
But despite the glorious future envisioned by Garrido, youngsters are still facing challenging times, as noted by a report published by the Reina Sofia Center for Adolescence and Youth. The document points out that the impact of the crisis was greater on young people in Spain than it was anywhere else in Europe. “In order to measure emancipation, we studied political, economic and cultural factors,” says Eulalia Alemany from the Reina Sofia Center. “Spain scores lower than its neighbors, and the gap is growing.”
According to 25-year-old vocational training student Severino Edjagn, “My friends and I believe getting a stable job will be very hard. It’s more like we think we’ll be jumping from one job to another.”
Those who were 20 before the crisis
ANA PASTOR, 37 | Archeologist
“The generations coming up behind us are more competitive. The crisis has made them more individualistic. And at university I see a lot of class inequality that wasn’t there when I started to study.”
CLARA FERNÁNDEZ, 33 | Actress and waitress
“Young people are more used to instability. They think it’s normal because it’s been their reality. My mother told me that if I studied I would be fine. And look at me. I have three degrees and I have to carve out my future every day.”
Those who are 20 today
GUILLERMO REBOLLO, 21 | Political Science and Sociology Student
“I’ll almost certainly have to look for work abroad, preferably in Europe. I want to live abroad, but I can also see I won’t have a choice. I doubt I would find work in Spain in my field. We will have to spend more years as interns. I worry that there will be endless instability. But I am also considering studying for civil service examinations.”
VICENTE BELAIRE, 22 | Lab technician
“A lot of companies want you to remain an intern forever. Most companies, if not all, make you work as an intern for far too long. It’s something me and my friends talk about a lot. We’re scared they will only take us on in this capacity. And with the price of rent, I don’t see myself being able to rent a place by myself. I would like to move in with my friends.”
English version by Heather Galloway.