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Tuesday May 3, 2011

Are we mollycoddling our unemployed youth?


It’s laughable to imagine a son suing his parents for unpaid pocket money and even more ludicrous when the man in question happens to be 25 years old. And yet in Andalusia in Southern Spain a judge has just ruled against such a petition, ordering an unemployed young man to leave his parents house within 30 days and to find himself a job rather than rely on parental monthly handouts.

Unemployment in Spain has reached an all time high with 21 per cent of the population-amounting to nearly 5 million people-without work. It has also emerged that 43 per cent of the country’s youths aged 16 to 24 years are “ni-ni” neither in training nor in employment.

In recent years several unemployed young Spaniards, still living at home, have taken their parents to court for attempting to stop allowances. So far none has gained a victory but with 54 per cent of Spanish youths continuing to live at home, even up to the age of 34, the number of court cases may rise. The concept of living with one’s parents into adulthood is not abnormal in Spanish culture but living at home without a job, is.

The problem of course is that similarly to the UK, there are few jobs to go round. When the recession began to bite in Spain the sectors that suffered most were construction and tourism, depriving many youths trained in manual trades of job opportunities. Despite Spain’s youth having more educational opportunities than their parents ever had, with many young people taking university degrees, few face good job prospects when they finish their studies. In fact one in five young Spaniards is looking for a first job. Popular Spanish political blogger, Ignacio Escolar, describes it as the “first generation to live worse than their parents since the Second World War.”

Many cynics will argue that Spanish parents are just too indulgent, allowing their spoilt children to live off them at home until the situation becomes untenable. In the UK, 15 per cent of the youth market is described as Neet (Not in in education, employment or training). Although far fewer that their Spanish counterparts continue to live at home, the majority still rely on unemployment benefits and handouts from parents. Some will argue that young people are becoming too choosy about what work they do, or too demanding about work conditions and level of pay. Majorcan friends in my rural valley offering agricultural and cleaning work, claim that young unemployed people balk at accepting €12 per hour, preferring to maintain their more lucrative State benefits. The same criticism has been levelled at English young people, especially those with degrees looking for a first rung on the job ladder.

Much as I can understand how graduates might grimace at the thought of doing manual labour in place of a white collar job that might bring them closer to their dream profession, sometimes needs must. Perhaps the simple reality is that many jobless Spanish-and English-youths are just not hungry enough. When I graduated during a recession there were three options available to us-taking a one-year teaching qualification to put off the evil hour (which many friends did and later regretted), going on the dole or finding a job. Without a family of means, I got off my rump applied for hundreds of jobs and finally got lucky. It wasn’t plain sailing. I had to relocate to Nottingham immediately, and because I earned a pittance could only afford a tiny bedsit with a greedy gas meter that guzzled 50 pences with the zeal of a hungry caterpillar. I worked like a burro and cannot remember ever having a free weekend but it paid off. A year later I was promoted and offered a fantastic job in central London.

I wonder how many of today’s young unemployed would genuinely be willing to take the risk of upping sticks away from the comfort of home and friends to earn a low wage in a new city, working flat out with no social life. Not many, I would imagine. The salad days of any career can be tough but the benefits normally outweigh the negatives and much can be learnt along the way.

Perhaps if parents stopped dishing out pocket money, and the government grew sterner about handouts, we might just find our youth approaching the job market with a little more alacrity.

This article first appeared in Telegraph Expat





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