In his first speech since his father Juan Carlos abdicated the throne, Spain’s future King, Crown Prince Felipe, addressed his country’s begrudgingly slow economic recovery. He referred to Spain as “united and diverse.” These remarks came a week after a new report noted that 1.26 million Spaniards have been without jobs since 2010. These citizens, unemployed for at least three years, are representatives of the 500 percent increase in Spain’s long-term unemployed population since 2007. They are 23.1 percent of Spain’s unemployed population and their numbers are continuing to grow with each passing year.
In the first quarter of 2014, Spain’s unemployment rate fell to 25.73 percent, down from a record high of 26.94 percent last year. During the same quarter, Spain’s economy grew at a quarterly rate of 0.4 percent, its best period since 2006. These increases have caused politicians and the International Monetary Fund to reassert their confidence in Spain’s recovery prospects, but that confidence has proven divisive within Spain.
Fiscal policies by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his conservative Popular Party have been lukewarmly received by the general public. On June 6, the Spanish government approved a $15 billion stimulus package to spur growth and promote their renewed confidence in the economy. However, 26 percent of Spain’s population remains on government benefits. This figure is second in the EU only to Greece.
As reform efforts begin to take hold throughout Spain, civil unrest has resurfaced. Much of the focus is now geared toward high levels of income inequality. There has recently been a boom in tourism in Barcelona, accounting for a record high of 7.5 million visitors in 2013, but the unemployment rate still looms at 18 percent. Protesters are noting changes in government policies which have only affected the well off and have left the despondent with little to aspire to.
Spain’s corporate tax rate has recently been lowered to 25 percent from 30 percent, but the ability of the country’s educational institutions to produce well-trained students for prospective employers is questionable at best. Two-thirds of Spain’s 38.6 million residents over the age of 16 have only a basic education. Of these residents, 32.5 percent are currently unemployed. The youth unemployment rate is also nearly double that of the national rate. Slow recovery rates have dissuaded international investment and stymied growth in Spain’s financial sector.
Spain recently announced an early 1.3 billion euro repayment of a 41 billion euro EU banking rescue loan. This announcement was positioned as a confidence boosting measure. Whether it proves a catalyst for a Spain bereft of chronic unemployment, only time will tell.
– Taylor Dow