Generation Neither-Nor Recession Robs Spain's Youth of Jobs and Hope

The ongoing economic crisis has pummelled Spain. Small businesses feel abandoned by the government, layoffs are swelling the ranks of the desperate, and a whole generation of recent college graduates is facing a future without prospects.

By in Madrid

It was early July when it finally happened and nothing came out of the ATM. With a sinking feeling, Iñigo Ortega went into his usual bank to print out his statements. The bank's maintenance fee had been debited from his account, and there was nothing left -- his savings were gone. It had taken only three months to go completely broke.

As recently as March, Ortega, 36, was employed as the head of a small but upscale architectural firm on La Castellana, Madrid's grand boulevard, making €3,000 ($4,280) a month. But the firm specialized in luxury restorations and renovating hotels in historic buildings, and it had been getting fewer and fewer lucrative contracts. It wasn't really a surprise, seeing that the worsening economic crisis was keeping millions of foreign tourists away. The most creative designer on the firm's six-person team was the last one to be let go. And it was Ortega's bad luck that he had been working for the last four years as a freelancer without a set contract that would have entitled him to claim unemployment benefits.

"My job's gone, my money's gone and so is my hope," Ortega says bitterly as he leafs nervously through his documents. He has sued the owner of the architectural firm for the social security contributions he never paid, overtime hours, holiday pay and a settlement. He doesn't want to accept the fate of being "in my late thirties and dependent on my parents again, like a kid still in school." Ortega got the job after eight years of university followed by internships with some of the best firms in the business. But now it was all for nothing. At first he was needed. Ortega created a hip Web site for his boss and taught him computer drafting. But now the boss doesn't need him. He doesn't know what the future holds and is trying to figure out how he can "scrape through from day to day."

Generación Ni-Ni

Tens of thousands in Spain are currently in the same dire straits as Ortega. As the country faces the worst recession since the Spanish Civil War ended 70 years ago, first-time jobseekers are being hit especially hard. No other country in Europe has as many young people out of work: almost 37 percent of people under 25 and a quarter of those under 30. Sociologists have already created a name for this group -- "generación ni-ni," the neither-nor generation. The term meant to describe young people who are neither studying nor working and don't have something in their lives that they can get excited about. It's a true zero generation -- zero jobs, zero prospects. A recent survey of Spaniards between the ages of 18 and 34 showed that 54 percent of those polled view themselves as neither-nors.

Take Eva Reina López, for example. She's 20; her father's an electrician and a widower. Reina did everything right. After getting her secondary school degree, she no longer wanted to be a burden on her father, who had raised her alone since she was six. So, instead of enrolling at one of Madrid's universities -- which had been her father's dream for her -- Reina followed her boyfriend to a small city in León Province nestled in the mountains of northwestern Spain. And there -- in her mother's hometown and where Spain's socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero began his political career -- Reina learned how to weld. After six months of training at a company called Coiper, which manufactures towers for wind turbines, she secured an employment contract for six more months. The government in Madrid is promoting wind power as Spain's great industry of the future.

In January, it was all over. Coiper can no longer find buyers for its products. The government froze subsidies for sustainable-energy ventures after the economic crisis hit, which has caused wind-farm construction to stagnate. As a new employee, Reina wasn't entitled to claim unemployment benefits, and she only received welfare payments of €400 a month through June. Her boyfriend and other permanent employees have had their working hours reduced. Now they sweep the empty production rooms, waiting for the news that the company is shutting down for good. "There aren't a lot of choices here in Ponferrada," Reina says. "What will we do if everything here closes?"

"We've hardly even started our careers, and we're already disillusioned," says Noa Beade, 24. Like others her age, Beade gets upset whenever she gives some serious thought to her career prospects. A year ago, Beade received a journalism degree from San Pablo CEU, a respected private university. She has also completed four internships, speaks English fluently and spent six months in Paris learning French on Europe's ERASMUS student exchange program. But even with all these qualifications, she didn't land any of the several dozen jobs -- or unpaid internships -- she applied for directly out of college. A drop in advertising revenues has crippled the Spanish media. Instead of hiring, they're laying people off.

Beade's father, who lives in Galicia and also works in the wind energy industry, paid €4,057 to allow her to take a special course in financial journalism at Madrid's public Complutense University. He wanted his daughter to make it further in life than he and his wife, who works as a dietician in Vigo. The certificate helped Beade land another internship, this time working for a business news service for three months. She's not sure if she'll be paid while there.


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