Spain’s tangled unemployment figures: 2.7 million people or 3.2 million?

unemployment spain

According to data provided by the Ministry of Labour, the number of unemployed people registered in the offices of the State Public Employment Service (SEPE) fell in December by 27,375 people (-1%). In year-on-year terms, unemployment fell in December by 130,197 people (-4.59%), to 2,707,456 people, the lowest figure for this month since 2007.

These figures, however, should be qualified. According to the USO trade union, the tangle of data provided by the government hides the fact that some 650,000 unemployed people on training courses or looking for work under special conditions – and who are still unemployed – are not included in the unemployment statistics, despite the fact that they are neither working nor being paid. According to USO, the number of unemployed in Spain is actually 3,215,970 people. That is, admitting that those on so-called “fixed discontinuous” contracts – who are not working and may even be collecting unemployment benefits – and who number around 700,000 people are “employed”.

For its part, according to data from the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, in December Social Security increased the average number of affiliates by 29,937 (+0.1%), which is its largest rise in this month since 2019 if December 2021, the year marked by Covid-19, is discounted.
In 2023, the average number of Social Security affiliates increased by 539,740 employed persons (+2.7% year-on-year), to 20,836,010 contributors. The 2023 increase is the second largest annual increase after 2018, when the system added 564,000 workers. In seasonally adjusted figures, the number of Social Security contributors increased in December by 23,287 workers (+0.1%), to 20,774,625 employed, the highest figure in the historical series.

Here again, some clarifications are in order, since almost 40% of the half a million jobs created over the year are public sector jobs, mainly in education and health.

The reality is that employment and unemployment figures in Spain have become almost incomprehensible: it turns out that a worker with two part-time contracts counts as two contributors. Or there is the paradox that unemployment is falling but unemployment payments are rising…

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The Corner
The Corner has a team of on-the-ground reporters in capital cities ranging from New York to Beijing. Their stories are edited by the teams at the Spanish magazine Consejeros (for members of companies’ boards of directors) and at the stock market news site Consenso Del Mercado (market consensus). They have worked in economics and communication for over 25 years.