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Unemployment in Spain Spurs Widespread Pessimism

  • Caroline Arbour

Demonstrators hold signs as they protest against what they say is abuse of the system by banks and the failure of the government to stop them, in front of the headquarters of Spain's center-right People's Party [Partido Popular] in Madrid, July 8, 2012.

Demonstrators hold signs as they protest against what they say is abuse of the system by banks and the failure of the government to stop them, in front of the headquarters of Spain's center-right People's Party [Partido Popular] in Madrid, July 8, 2012.

The Spanish government says the number of Spaniards who are out of work rose in August for the first time in five months. The government says the pace of growth for unemployment appears to have slowed, but that is little comfort to the more than 4.6 million people without jobs.

At the provincial employment and state benefits office in downtown Seville, workers who have lost their jobs stream in to get help. Young, middle-aged, blue collar workers, well-dressed professionals - there is no typical profile, though unemployment is highest for those under 25-years old - at about 50 percent.

In the sitting room, 28-year old Juan Rodriguez and his 20-year old girlfriend Sarah Dagnall wait their turn for help. He has a background in computer science and website design. He has worked odd jobs here and there as an electrician, plumber, and elevator installer, but he has not had steady employment in six years.

She was let go from a failing English school just before the summer and is seven months pregnant.

They leave the building slightly relieved, but also frustrated and worried.

“I came here and they have given me some help for six months of 426 euros," said Dagnall. "We have lived on less before. But then I do not know how we are going to do it when our son comes.”

They know $546 a month is not enough for three, but Juan is not very optimistic about his prospects. Rodriguez said business owners only give jobs to their relatives and friends.

In fact, in Spain, enchufes, or connections, are key - much more than in North America. Just finding work as a waiter or a store clerk to make ends meet, while studying for a new career for example, can be very difficult for someone who is not “connected,” since so many shops and restaurants are family-run.

Local federal unemployment office director Alfonso Agudo said there is very little hope right now of finding a job.

Some qualify for unemployment insurance, which can reach a maximum of about $1,800 a month for a family with two or more children, but others do not because they came to the end of a short-term contract and did not accumulate enough hours.

Almost a quarter of Spaniards are on fixed-term contracts. Agudo said he sees a lot of desperate cases.

Psychologist Joana Marín Fuste, who has been in practice for more than two decades, explained that many of her patients exhibit apathy, a resigned attitude with a view that things are bad and they are not going to get better any time soon.

She added that they struggle with physical manifestations of those feelings, like insomnia.

Dr. Marín advises patients to stay away from the news. And she wishes the media would focus on some positives once in a while, or at least rationalize the negative, so as not to completely sap the fighting spirit Spaniards may have left in them.

Sarah and Juan now live with his mother. They will continue receiving social assistance of $546 dollars, for 21 months after the baby is born.

But then?

“We have no idea. We hope that he finds a job and if not, we’ll just have to drag along,” said Dagnall.

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