The crises of Spain’s youth: 7 solutions for a better future

Young people everywhere have recently faced recessions, a pandemic and falling real incomes — but in Spain, the problems are even more acute. In a recent report, Esade researchers suggest solutions that could improve life for future generations.

Do Better Team

Stop buying take-out coffee, eat less avocado on toast and cancel your subscriptions to Netflix: all genuine suggestions made by media commentators for young people struggling to make sense of the crises they find themselves living through. 

For those born before 1981 — the year the Millennial generation began — these may seem like simple solutions. After all, they did perfectly well without streaming services and Starbucks, so why can’t the younger people do without too? 

A generation hit by crises 

Well, partly because those unfortunate to have been born between 1985 and 1995 are the only generation in the last century to endure two Great Recessions (2008 and 2020). 

Or maybe it’s the global pandemic, which saw the world grind to a halt country by country, confining education and all the social conditioning that comes with it to solitary online learning.  

Or the soaring cost of living caused by global unrest and an energy crisis. Or the fact that homes — rented or bought — are priced out of the reach of most people, forcing them to live at home with their parents into their thirties. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Since the financial crash of 2008, access to education, employment, housing, a living wage and the stable family lives these things bring have plummeted.  

Low wages, high prices and poor growth  

Spain has been hit harder than most European countries. Youth unemployment is the highest in Europe at 32.2 per cent — the European average is 15.1 per cent.  For those who do work, the average income is also below the European average of €33,500, at €28,180. That’s less than half the pay of citizens in Luxembourg and Denmark and below the average in France, Germany and Italy. 
For those Spanish citizens aging between 24 and 30, the average income is even further below, at 21.212,04. 

The housing market doesn’t fare much better. According to research from CaixaBank, there isn’t enough supply to meet demand. Madrid, Barcelona and tourist hotspots are those experiencing the greatest shortages, pushing costs up and pricing young people out of the market. 
According to the Director of the Esade Center for Social Innovation, Ignasi Martí, “most of these youngsters have unstable and temporary jobs with low salaries, which is the great obstacle they face to access the housing market”. He claims that “structural changes” are needed, since rental subsidies and the likes are not long-term solutions. 

And, according to Esade’s economic and financial report for the first six months of 2023, things are about to get worse. The good news is there’s no risk of another recession, according to the experts who compiled the report. However, economic growth is predicted to drop from 5.5 per cent in 2022 to just 1 per cent in 2023. 

Solutions for a brighter future 

Although this all paints a bleak picture of a beleaguered generation, there are solutions that can ensure a brighter future. In a report for Esade EcPol, Ariane Aumaitre and Jorge Galindo developed several recommendations to lighten the load for future generations in Spain and southern Europe. 

1. Regularize social security payments 

In Spain and southern Europe, social security payments are usually tied to the level of contributions. This system rewards those who pay in the most and keeps those with low incomes on the lowest rungs of the ladder. Fairer redistribution systems will lift younger and future generations out of this poverty trap. 

2. Protect all workers 

Southern European regulations tend to offer more protection to those with more highly skilled jobs, again penalizing the younger, less skilled workers. The same levels of security should be offered to all workers, say Aumaitre and Galindo.  

3. Unleash creative potential 

Levels of funding and investment into creative skills should match those of the more traditional academic routes to career success, Aumaitre and Galindo say. The welfare system should also support the development of creative careers to ensure longevity. 

4. Fund and promote life skills 

State funding and frameworks should be developed to educate young people in real-life skills. This education in socio-emotional skills is an area of particular importance since the pandemic-enforced lockdowns removed the natural lived experiences older generations enjoyed. 

5. Better housing 

Low wages and high rents are responsible for around 65 per cent of Spaniards under the age of 30 still living with their parents, according to housing specialist Idealista. In a market focused on ownership, Aumaitre and Galindo say public policies should aim to increase the supply of affordable rented homes and provide more protection for renters.  

An increase in affordable housing across the country would provide the added benefit of widening career options for younger people, giving them the opportunity to explore opportunities further afield. 

6. Better parental leave 

Maternity pay more closely linked to salaries, greater flexibility when choosing dates and duration of both maternity and paternity leave, and more accommodating schedules from employers should all be priorities for policy design to address the rapidly declining birth rate in Spain, say Aumaitre and Galindo.  

7. Affordable childcare 

Free or affordable early years childcare is essential to avoid impediments to early development, say Aumaitre and Galindo, as well as promoting the welfare of young parents — particularly mothers, who are more likely to leave the labor market due to a lack of childcare.  

Aumaitre and Galindo don’t claim that their ideas — which can be seen in full in their report (published in Spanish) The double crisis generation: Economic insecurity and political attitudes in Southern Europe’  — hold the answers to all the questions on how to help younger generations. 

They do, however, suggest that the framework could act as a reference for future debate and help to close the generation gap that penalizes young people for crises they didn’t cause.  

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