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How bad is Spain right now?
Casa sin gente, gente sin casa. English: Houses without people, people without houses

How bad is Spain right now?

A Reflection on the Current State of Spain

With Some Thoughts of Optimism

As many of you know, I spent the better half of this past summer in Spain. I have been to Spain some in the past so this was not my first introduction to Spanish culture. It was however a unique experience.

This trip was not only unique because of the fact that I got to see many new cities and a purely beautiful side of Spain, but it was that I got the opportunity to gain a better appreciation for Spain’s current situation. In short, I can say that it was unique for two main reasons: (1) I got to see the devolution of the Spanish economy from the first time that I visited Spain to this summer (2) I got a really well round view of many Spanish cities thanks to REAJ and Hostelling International. I spent two months in Spain and crossed nearly 26 cities. I had the opportunity to interact with a lot of locals as well, which further enabled me to get a view at what life is like for the average Spaniard at the moment.

As travelers, we rarely get a chance to see what life is like for the everyday citizen. This is because we are typically channeled into touristy areas and see all the positive aspects of society, but do not get the chance to see what goes on behind closed doors. The struggles, the heart ache, the desperation, that everyday folks go through. I am not saying that I got to see all of this or even understand it all, but I would definitely say I got a better view than the average bloc while in Spain.

Reads: "La educación no se vende"  English: Do not sell the education

Reads: “La educación no se vende”
English: Do not sell the education

In light of all these things, I realized that many people back home were surprisingly interested in learning about how bad Spain is right now. I thought that I would attempt to put together this recollection reflecting on my time spent in Spain this summer. Including some thoughts on what I saw, a look at some personal stories, trying to capture the sentiment of the people, and lastly draw from some past experiences in Spain. So, whether I actually accomplish that or not, here is my attempt.

Overview

I arrived first in Madrid. From the moment that I arrived, I noticed that more people were talking about “la crisis“. La crisis, meaning ‘the crisis’ in Spanish, refers to the current financial meltdown of Spain, and several other European nations such as Italy, Greece, and Portugal. This introduction to the word was something that remained a theme throughout the trip. In fact, I cannot recall too many conversations that I had within those two months that did not at least mention ‘la crisis’ at least once. I am not sure if this is because of an over dramatization by the media and newspapers, or if the people are doing it for themselves, but there seems to be a constant looming helplessness associated with la crisis, and its effect on the nation. This was a recurrent theme.

In all seriousness, the situation in some European states, particularly Spain, is bad. Really bad. I am not an economist so I will not get into the fine details, but I will give you a few figures to help put the situation into perspective. Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the developed world with Greece not far behind it. Roughly 56% of young people (<25 years old) in Spain are unemployed or grossly underemployed. It is so bad for them that they have in fact been nicknamed “the lost generation.” ¹ The unemployment rate for the country at-large is around 26%, which relates to more than 6 million Spaniards out of work. The total unemployment rate went from 8% in 2008 to the current state.² Needless to say, that is a colossal increase in under 5 years. Most companies will not hire, and if they do it, they do so for seasonal or temporary contracts. People without much experience or higher qualifications have little chance. Even a large percentage of degree holding youth see little hope for finding opportunities, especially in humanity fields.

¹ Source: The Guardian: Spain Youth Unemployment Record High

² Source: Trading Economics: Unemployment Rate Spain

Setting Hopes for New Horizons

Many people who I met in Spain had aimed their sites at new horizons. The ones that had skill sets and opportunities have started to migrate to other places in Europe and the world. Countries like Australia, the UK, Germany, and even the United States, have seen influxes of Spaniards. Not everyone has the means to move, but the ones that do have certainly looked into it. The modern Spanish flight

Before I’d go calling it a ‘great flight’ of Spaniards, I need to present other evidence on the contrary. For example another publication that I’ve read combats the notion that Spaniards are leaving at alarming rates. In summary, the article states that only around 40,000 people have left Spain due to the economic crisis. There are many others who have left, but many of them were not of Spanish blood, typically immigrants from Africa or Latin America, both legal and illegal. ³  I can see how this would be true as I heard that many of the immigrants were moving on to other countries in Europe. One thing that this article does not address though are the demographics of that 40,000 people. Who are they, what socio-economic status do they come from, et cetera. I am not sure of these statistics, but I think that it would be interesting to know. I am not sure whether only 40,000 have really left or if many more have, nor am I certain of their intentions, but it is hard to blame the ones who have for looking at new horizons.

Similarly, I met a lot of people who were hoping for better opportunities abroad whether they would ever get to reach them or not. Many people have begun to follow new leads in emerging fields and skill sets. These include things like learning to speak Chinese or extend their studies into new technical fields. It seemed to me that many people were looking to become more unique and possess skill sets that not everyone typically has.  However, I should mention that this was only some of the people who I met. There were just as many other people who were hoping to find things in their fields.

³ Source: Are Spaniards Emigrating?

Poor Leadership & Corruption

stained glass window in spain

It does not help that the figure heads of Spain are not proving to be great examples either by carrying out a lavish lifestyle or becoming involved in scandalous corruption. Several Spaniards mentioned a story about King Juan Carlos who went on an exotic excursion to Botswana this past year with his mistress. Accordingly, the only reason that he was caught was because he fell off of his elephant and required a major operation. Additionally, his daughter and her husband have received criminal charges for embezzlement through Swiss bank accounts, living their “flamboyant lifestyle.” 4 This, many likened, to public opinion of U.S. President Barack Obama and his family who regularly take lavish vacations around the world on public funds. In a time when people are suffering, it would help for the leadership to be somewhat sympathetic to the average citizens.

Unfortunately corruption  is rampant in Spain, you can find tons of cases by searching online for corruption in Spain. In many ways, it seems to highlight the extreme differences between the average citizen and fastidiously wealthy. Much corruption is currently underway with the banking industry, government, and other sectors of Spain, while the people have become increasingly frustrated. Spain is slightly different from your typical rich vs. poor country because it was traditionally a wealthy country. It is a western nation and open to the outside markets since after the fall of Franco’s dictatorial regime in 1976. However, many know about Spain’s flourishing history as a conquering nation, which brought it riches from far away lands. In fact, since the times of the Spanish Inquisition, Spain has played an important role in modern history.

4 Source: Reuters: King Juan Carlos falls from grace

The People

Spanish people are some of my favorite people in that they are always looking to have a good time. They are true lovers of life and leisure and their fun attitude can be contagious in the best of ways. I found that many of the Spaniards were still maintaining this attitude despite their conditions. That being said, not everything was great.

Spain is traditionally a nation of immigrants. This theme goes way back to the time of the Romans and Moors. In the 21st Century, chiefly because of its colonial history coupled with its proximity to the continent of Africa, Spain is a prime piece of real estate for people seeking refuge from the developing world. Sadly, there is little opportunity for these immigrants. There is a nasty side of modern  immigration to Spain that revolves around organized crime. You can see it daily there without trying to find it. Prostitution lines city streets, there is a high rate of petty theft in cities such as Barcelona, and street vendors attempt sell anything that they can to make a buck. However, this is not necessarily something new. Tragically, many of these people are coaxed into coming to Spain for greener pastures, then forced into some peddling job that they will likely never leave. This most recent influx of immigrants has caused some tensions with the Spanish people especially as the jobless number has increased steadily.  Some Spaniards have become exhausted by the inflow of immigrants and are very open to sharing it. Others realize that it is a natural process that just cannot be stopped. Spain is a natural gateway to Europe as its southern shores are just a few miles from the North African coast. broken graffiti

I saw more Spaniards this time doing things that just did not seem to fit. For example, a Spanish woman old enough to be a grandmother who walked by my table selling lighters. As she walked away, I sat puzzled for a few moments as I contemplated the situation. Was she trying to make ends meet, I contemplated to myself?

I felt the despair of many of the people, both young and old, that I talked to. I saw as some were internally conflicted and upset, others held strict pessimism for any future solutions, but I also saw a lot of people doing what they can to make things work. The depression was emanate in some of the people who I met. Spaniards are typically known for wearing their emotions, but in many cases in Spain, as you have seen in my pictures, the writing is on the wall. Unfortunately, there has been a correlating increase in the number of suicides in Spain due to the crisis. As the amount of foreclosures and evictions rise, more and more people have turned to hopelessness and pessimism, which is truly a sad thing.

Division

independencia

There is unfortunately no quick fix to Spain’s current situation, but in time bad things can be improved with hard work and determination. Part of the problem with Spain is that you have dis-unification. Spain is one of those countries that is like multiple countries put together. There are several autonomous states in Spain, several of them have, or still, seek independence from Spain. Catalunya, Basque country, Andalusia, Galcía, and Valencia are among the most well-known of the 17 autonomous states of Spain. Not all of them seek independence, but they still stand apart. If they could find ways to overcome this, they would be better off as a whole, but culturally I can see how the regions are different.

Safety First

One of the more interesting things about Spain was that I noticed very little trouble with any crime. (I should mention that when I refer to crime, I mean more specifically the violent type. There are hundreds of pickpockets daily and theft issues, but very little issues outside of this. The majority of this petty crime does not come from Spaniards anyway.) This absence of crime is something that I can say is a very positive attribute to the Spanish people. Typically, you see a direct correlation between crime and economies, but in the case of Spain, I just don’t see it. Perhaps, I got lucky, or missed it all, but I went to a lot of cities and walked through a lot of places and never once felt unsafe. The Spanish police do a fantastic job of keeping the streets safe and Spaniards must make attempts at avoiding conflicts.

On the Bright Side of Things

Reads: "un mundo diferente no puede ser construido por gente indiferente." English: "A different world cannot be created by indifferent people."

Reads: “un mundo diferente no puede ser construido por gente indiferente.”
English: “A different world cannot be created by indifferent people.”

I might be overly optimistic, but I believe that el crisis can be good in some ways for the Spanish people. I expressed this ideal with some Spaniards and not all agreed, but I will try again here.si se puede sticker

Tough times call for innovation and big changes. They give you an opportunity to sit back and reflect on what is working and what is not, and make corrections where needed. Think of this like a person who has “hit rock bottom”. Once someone has been to the worst of conditions, there is only one direction to go, unless of course you don’t do anything at all. I believe that the Spanish people can take a really bad situation and make it better by making some necessary changes to their country’s system and economy. Nothing will change over night. However, with the proper changes in attitude and direction, I think that Spain can have a bright future. Spain has some great natural resources. Although Spain has issues with water in some areas such as Murcia, it has an abundance of things like sun light. Spain has a large multi-cultural population that has the potential to be innovative, creative, and do great things. You are already seeing this in some aspects of society. For example, many who lack economic opportunities are being forced to attempt to create them for themselves. Spain has seen a tremendous increase in the number of start-ups and entrepreneurial endeavors since the beginning of la crisis. Bloomberg even calls it, “necessity entrepreneurship.” 5 Granted, not all businesses are successful, but the bad times are causing these people to think outside of the box, which I dare say could be considered to be a good thing.arriba espana

Spain is still a beautiful country, rich in historical significance and regional importance. They still produce some of the finest wines and foods that the world knows. They still have some of the most breathtaking cities and amazing coastlines. Spain will survive, they are just going through some tough times and will likely continue to be doing so for the coming years. Les mando mis sinceros deseos de recuperación.

5 Source: Start-ups fill void left

Conclusion

I am not sure if I really accomplished my goal of explaining how bad Spain is in its current economic state. Spanish people may have a completely different picture to paint. Truthfully, the impact that la crisis has had, and is having, on any particular Spaniard may vary greatly depending on what they do and where they live. My approach was to give you a few different examples of some of the problems facing Spain and some of the negative impacts of la crisis. I hope that you have a better idea of what the Spanish people are going through at the moment and an appreciation for their situation.

*Tags: How bad is Spain, what is spain like now*

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12 comments

  1. Very good assessment there Andy. Here in the UK we often see news articles about the strife in Spain and it is in many ways a dire situation.

    I agree with your optimism though. In such difficult times is when ingenuity and entrepreneurship can come to the fore. It maybe before my time but the Great Depression of the 1930s led to drastic action and people had to adapt. Look at the US now though, it is a beacon of prosperity for the rest of the world.

    Spain will rise again. We just hope it is sooner rather than later.
    The Guy recently posted…10 Reasons Why You Should Join An Airlines Frequent Flyer SchemeMy Profile

    • The situation is certainly bleak. Spain will not be fixed over night or even in the near future, but as you mention with several years of recession they can perhaps rise above it. This is my hope for them.

  2. Hi Andy,
    Very good post, nice to hear what’s going on from someone who’s got his feet on the ground there. I’m not as optimistic. It’s nice to say that things will improve over time through more efficiencies in how the government runs it’s services, but average person will be negatively impacted by reduction of unemployment benefits, medical services and other government subsidies/services/jobs. Times have changed and ingenuity and entrepreneurship affect the better off and doesn’t necessarily trickle down…for more, like many places in the Western world, the average man is worse off than they were 30 years ago. In N. America we’ve adjusted to it a bit more smoothly as services have been steadily but progressively cut. But it’s there. In W. Europe they’ve lived beyond their means for too long and haven’t scaled back so now it’s coming as a shock. Blame it on bad politics and passing the buck to governments down the line to deal with the problems that were bound to come to a head. France isn’t far behind…And we talk of the US but the debt problems will also come home to roost.
    Good job,
    Frank
    Frank recently posted…Montreal Canadiens 2013-14 season preview and predictionsMy Profile

    • You make some really good points Frank. It is true that few benefit from entrepreneurial things anymore except for those who already have capital. Western Europe has been living well beyond its means for a long time and it will not likely end well. All debt will eventually come to roost.

  3. Being unemployed is no fun… unless you want to be unemployed. I hope these issues get better or at the very least, plateau.

    Necessity is often the mother of invention and of motivation. I hope people will continue to follow new leads in emerging fields and skill sets in order to carve out new careers and lives for themselves because I notice when they do, they often get very creative and it usually benefits us all.
    Maria recently posted…We Deliver!My Profile

    • You’re right Maria, many of them are not having good days right now, but necessity can be a great driving force. I hope that they can band together and become innovative.

  4. Good article and very true of the situation here. (I am a Brit living on the Costa Blanca). It is grim and many have left for other countries in search of work, but like you say, these are the ones that can afford to go. This is more tragic for the Spanish than some other nationalities who aren’t so family orientated. Up until now many wouldn’t have dreamt of leaving their close communities. It does make the people open to learning other languages and skills. Schools/families are frantically upping their level of english.
    Possibly the unemployment is not quite as high as it seems with their being a history of cash-in-hand work mentality. Another problem that Spain should be working to resolve. The authorities can make paying tax so irrational and fiddley that they are not encouraging people to be self-employed and honest about it.
    One thing that has come into the spotlight is the level of corruption that has been inherent here. Hopefully some changes will be forced to be made that will help Spain as a country in the long run, but in the meantime there are very hard times ahead for so many.
    It is a good time to invest in property here – we see townhouses coming on for as little as €30,000 on the Costa Blanca – but its a long term invest as you wouldn’t beable to re-sell easily at the moment with 3-4 million empty properties out there. The second-home boom in Europe is, for the moment at least, over.

    • Yes, I witnessed a similar thing when I was there Jess. The Spanish are definitely family/community oriented people, so I think that it is harder for them to build this separation. That is an interesting point that you make about the cash-in-hand philosophy, I hadn’t considered that as a force for influencing the unemployment rate.

      I think that it would be a good time to invest if you have the money, but it will definitely be long-term. Thanks for sharing your experience there.

  5. I think the crises in europe is hugely exagerrated ..its not like people are dying of hunger on the streets or anything? So what if the spanish cannot afford materialistic interests at the moment at least they are enjoying a clean spacious country and eating and living well? Compare this to developing and third world countries that are overpopulated and bursting with people and no cleanliness or human rights or anything at all….at least that way spain has a quality of life at a good value for money….and its less corrupt than many other places.

    Anyway spain is offering residency if one invest half a million euros in properties..,the total cost is actually 600k euros cash investment….i am seriously considering it but my only concern is that if I do this to settle down in spain then would most spaniards have a problem with rich foreigners coming to live in their country? I am not stealing their jobs…i dont need a job…i am bringing money into their dead economy and helping them but ive noticed spanish are very racist, intolerant and jealous people…the problem is not the crises but their jealousies they are a dysfunctional society now that compete with each other and want to be better…and seems like they cannot tolerate anyone else being above them especially financially…if this is the case then id rather take my money and invest in a country where everyone is rich and secure like switzerland or monaco…i like spain for the culture and things to do …switzerland and monaco are boring but if im going to be hated for bringing money to spain then i dont want to do that either.

  6. Your article was quite repetitive and really not that in depth and informative. I have lived in Spain for some years as a US Citizens and traveled throughout Spain and can state that Spain will never improve economically or socially unless Spaniards change their corrupt behaviors and their hating ways towards other countries and people who do better than them. Here are some pros and cons:
    Pros: Good Fiestas, Siestas, cheap liquor, nice beaches, discotheques, beautiful tourist women on the beaches and club circuits and food is pretty good.
    Cons: Corruption, Guardia Civil especially and the Spanish Court system are corrupt to the core, Politicians are extremely corrupt with pay off’s, wheeling and dealing and all kinds of unethical behavior, no jobs for young people with great College Degrees like Engineering, Spaniards have this “Don Quijote Sindrome” where they believe that Spain is the center of the universe and the best country in the entire world, Spanish Government treats their subjects like their a bunch of ignorant dummies and dumb Spaniards down with a lot of “Futbol” on TV and all kinds of idiotic shows that keep Spaniards entertained so they don’t see what’s really going on in their own country, Spaniards are by nature very envious and jealous and just love to hate other countries and people that they are jealous of, Spaniards love to insult other countries and people’s but don’t like it when its done to them, many wives of Spanish men prostitute themselves for money to supplement their low incomes, Spaniards are two faced back stabbers and can never be trusted, Spaniards are lazy and should have never been allowed into the EU, as they do not deserve to be in the EU, Spain should be returned to what it was and what it was best at agriculture, in order to humble these Spaniards as they are full of arrogance and condescending attitudes, Spain and Spaniards need to be brought back to earth and realized they need to be humble and respect the USA who has given them most of their economic success, Spaniards by nature are simply ungrateful and bite the hand that feeds them, Spaniards like to get their way and when they don’t they can get really nasty, Spanish men are most likely to fool around on their wives with any women and don’t respect other men’s wives, Spaniards think that they are smarter than everyone else. To sum up Spaniards, “They are a no damn good race of bad genetically people who are some of the most false and two faced people and envious and jealous people I have ever met in my life”.

  7. awesone and nice article…….lets enjoy with knowledge…keep it up….

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