Spain goes to the polls on December 20 in what is being billed as one of the most crucial elections in recent years.
The region of Aragon is seen as a political thermometer – analysts say the party that wins there in December, is likely to win in Spain.
The economy is forecast to grow by around 3 percent in 2016 and the government claims that the crisis is ending. But the feeling in the street is very different.
Charo Martín, a pensioner, lives in a working class neigbourhood of Zaragoza, the regional capital and the fifth largest city in Spain. Her pension at present is just about enough to live on if she’s careful, and to help out her son from time to time, a 36 year-old unemployed IT worker.
Some of her friends, though have to take their unemployed older children, and sometimes their partners, back into the family home.
“We have unemployed children. I have one friend who had to take in her daughter with her husband and children, and that makes five. Luckily, the family unit in Spain, as I imagine it is in other Mediterranean countries, is still strong. I mean we have that family solidarity,” says Charo.
The financial cushion of last resort has become for many a ‘status quo’.
Charo’s generation started work very early and never waited to have children, while nowadays couples are waiting longer and longer before being able to afford to start a family. In fact this month, for the first time since 1999, deaths outstripped births in Spain.
“You stay out of work, on welfare and you just about survive,” says Charo Martín.” But time passes, months, sometimes years without finding a job, finding stability, stability in life: a life. It’s an emotional journey, that’s why I say this system we are living under I think is inhuman.”
There’s concern about who will pay pensions in the future with the system is already so overstretched. For the elderly the burden just gets worse: paying for health, hearing aids, glasses and other everyday essentials, as well as the extra burden of helping their children. Pensions are set to rise in 2016 but the increase will be lower than the rate of inflation.
“Pensions are being destroyed,” says Charo Martín. “And future pensions, we don’t know how they will be. Because there is a lot of publicity about private pensions, but if there’s no work , no ongoing work, you can’t contribute towards a private pension.”
Pablo López is not a burden for his parents, but nor can he count on their financial support.
41 years-old and unemployed for six months, he only receives a small pension for a disability.
His daily routine begins at Zaragoza Activa, a community centre where he gets help to try to find a job and improve his CV. His age group, which in previous generations rejoined the labour market relatively quickly, now faces many difficulties.
According to the latest data, the number of unemployed in Spain has dropped to under five million for the first time in four years.
Spain's unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level in four years but it is still at 21.2% – down from nearly 27% two years ago#Spain— Gavin Hewitt (@BBCGavinHewitt) October 22, 2015
His daily routine is to spend hours looking for a job.
There is a little more movement in the market, he admits, but nothing significant.
“Right now there are subsidies for hiring people from 20 to 30 years-old or 35 years. But there is an age, which is from 35 to 45, where I think we already have sufficient experience, and which is excluded, because the next grant is from 45 years-old … I believe that this age group, 35 to 45, which has experience, is not being given the support it merits.”
For people like Pablo, who have worked in many sectors, finding a job is a matter of returning to normal life. With difficulty he’s managed to keep on taking coffee at his usual bar.
“It is something that directly affects your income, because if you are actively looking for work your income, whether it’s from unemployment benefit, or some other source you might have, you have to cut your everyday spending. You have to cover your basic expenses: from rent, electricity, water, eating, dressing. And then there are other things that you like to do but you have to let go: from going to the gym, a weekend with my friends, or having a coffee at certain times. Because even being out looking for a job means you have to spend.”
This bleak perspective is a fear shared by people like Nacho Serrano, a senior law degree student.Unemployment among the under-24s is over 50 percent. For him to be recognised as a lawyer he has to study for a Masters degree. That would cost 2500 euros and still doesn’t guarantee a job.
He’s considering doing his Masters abroad. All around him young people are fearful of the future, others prefer to live in the present and not think about it.
“I think there is a pessimistic vision of the future in general,” says Nacho. “Linked to the fact that individuals don’t have much faith in their own future. They say : ‘I am ok now, I have my home, my parents give me some pocket money, I’m studying for my degree, if I do a little job I’ll have some more money’. They don’t want to ask themselves what lies ahead, and I think that’s why, because if you do, the prospects don’t look good.”
Another student, Javier Royo, has completed his history degree.
“The difference between this and previous generations is that they could almost take their pick,” says Javier. “It wasn’t always easy, but they had more room to move. And the salaries especially are different. When they started to work they were paid a salary that allowed them to be independent, to have a house even, to rent, and now that’s impossible.”
Raul Losantos is studying for his Masters in engineering.
“If I have to work at something for which I haven’t studied, it will be to the detriment of my training.
In my career, for example, they ask for work experience in many jobs. If you have no work experience in your field why not do a job that gives you that ability, you’re missing out on the opportunity to work one day in your chosen field. It’s better to go abroad and work in the field that you studied, continue being educated and build a your resumé and experience, rather than stay here just to earn a living.”
Alexandra Gomez is studying law:
“If I had to choose, unless they offered me work outside Spain on a permanent contract and I knew for for certain I was going to stay, which is very difficult right now, I would prefer to stay here to raise money to continue my education. Because education is very expensive and maybe having more education would lead to a fixed contract outside of Spain.”
But there are claims that even moving abroad is not the paradise some imagine.
“I met a Belgian when on the Erasmus programme who studied engineering,” says Raul Losantos. “He told me that the Spanish engineers were considered… well… ugly words… they were like outcasts because they were willing to work for half the wages or a quarter of a Belgian engineer. So you go abroad with better conditions than here… but not wonderful either”.
The people of the so-called “most educated generation” of Spaniards are on the road to repeating the story of their grandparents, who emigrated massively in the 60s and 70s. In the the first half of 2015 the country reached a record level of emigration – more than 50,000.