Employment, triumphalism aside

Spains unemployment problem

Fernando González Urbaneja | The EPA for the first quarter of 2023 allows for different readings to suit all readers’ tastes. Employment fell slightly compared with the previous quarter, but grew by 370,000 compared with the previous year. Therefore, a certain slowdown in job creation, but with a target figure of 20.45 million employed, the highest figure in history. Compared with the previous quarter and the previous year, the data are positive, in general terms, and disprove all the recessionary hypotheses of a few months ago.

But if we look back over a decade and take as a reference the first quarter of 2008, the peak of the previous economic cycle, the outlook is not favourable, since the number of employed is the same despite the fact that the number of people over 16 years of age has grown by 2.2 million people, which contributes only one million additional active people, one million more unemployed and almost one million more inactive people. Viewed in a long-term light, the period between 2008 and 2023 has not brought growth, some magnitudes have improved, for example in balance of payments, but neither job creation nor productivity have improved.

Those in power (including the opposition and of course the trade unions) should be concerned and worried by this stagnation, but it is not noticeable that they are. The government does not waver one iota in its triumphalist discourse, using the comparisons that suit them best and avoiding the less favourable ones. It is an ostrich-like discourse that avoids commitments and motivations for improvement.

It is obvious that the pandemic and all the other black swans have affected the economy (energy crisis, war, the brake on globalisation, raw materials…) but there is no period in history that has not seen advances and setbacks in different economic situations with negative and positive impacts.

The Spanish economy suffers from three permanent deficiencies in the labour market: a low rate of activity, low wages and a high rate of precariousness. These are fundamental problems that cannot be solved with more or less ambitious and efficient laws. They require consensus, mentality, far-reaching agreements and, undoubtedly, a leading role for the most active actor in employment: the employer, who is not on the current government’s list of priorities.

And if we are talking about the government, it would not be a bad thing if it were to address the problems of the 3.5 million civil servants (a few more if we count agreements and other forms of grey public employment) who are getting more and more rattled and protesting by the day. For example, the Minister of Labour, who preaches so much labour orthodoxy, could take care of the labour problems of her ministry, which are not few, more attentively and effectively by leading by example rather than by spinning a yarn.

About the Author

Fernando Gonzalez Urbaneja
Over 30 years working in economic journalism. Fernando was founder and chief-editor at El País, general editor at the business daily Cinco Días, and now teaches at Universidad Carlos III. He's been president of the Madrid Press Association and the Spanish Federation of Press Associations. He's also member of the Spanish press complaints commission.