The Story Behind Unemployment in Spain

Spanish Unemployment
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The youth unemployment rate in Spain is 40.5% (yes you read that correctly). In comparison, the rate in the United States is 9.4% (and I thought finding a job in the US was hard). Spain has the second highest unemployment in all of Europe. There are a lot different opinions on why and who these people are. After talking to my host mom who had been unemployed for a few years (she has been renting out her other apartment and collecting money from taxes she had already paid in during her 20+ years of working), I learned a few things that are pretty specific to Spain.

First, there are young people here that are called “ninis” (ni means nor in Spanish) who neither work nor go to school and usually live off of their parents. These people are typically looked down upon by society as a whole and are one of the reasons that there is a stereotype for this generation, the “generacion perdido” or loser generation.

Of course there are obviously young people who really want to work but just can’t find jobs; not having a degree plays a large role in this. Through a lot of Google translate and repeating the same things over and over again, my host mom explained the higher education system in Spain. One of the biggest differences that I noticed between the United States and Spain is that there isn’t a big push for every student to go to college. You have to have certain grades in what is kind of like high school and then also do well enough on basically the Spanish equivalent of the SAT to be considered. One cool thing about Spain is that if you have good enough scores, you won’t have to pay much for college. But on the other hand, if your scores aren’t that good, you either can’t go at all or have to pay a lot of money (still nowhere near colleges in the United States), which a lot of students cannot afford to do. My host mom told me about her daughter who, if it weren’t for her excellent grades, (I mean like top 10% of her class) she would not have been able to go to college. In Spain it isn’t typical for parents to make college funds for their children and you can’t really get loans like you can in the United States. Banks are not as large and do not give loans as easily for anything. This puts a lot of people in the position of wanting to work but not having degrees.

Lastly there are those who have degrees but cannot find jobs in their fields of study. As my host mom put it, “There are not a lot of big Spanish companies in Spain. The big ones are American or German and the people who run them in Spain are still American or German, so it is hard to be a manager and move up even if you are qualified.” There just are not the same opportunities in Spain as in a lot of other places around the world where different industries are taking off. Many of the top students end up leaving Spain to look for work.

Before I let you all go though, I do want to give Spain credit for something. With a youth unemployment rate almost four times as large as that in the United States and a standard unemployment rate about three times as large, you still really don’t see very many people living on the street. Even in Barcelona and Madrid you don’t see it very often, or at least it feels that way coming from the United States. Spain has a homeless population that is estimated at around 40,000 and has a total population of about 50 million, while the United States has over 500,000 homeless people and a population of about 320 million. I’m not a math major or anything but to me those numbers really don’t add up, especially when the Spanish unemployment rates are so high. Does Spain have its flaws? Of course it does. But they take care of their people. People here are proud to be Spanish and are willing to give up a little bit to make sure their fellow Spaniards have a better life. I don’t know about you, but I think that is pretty darn cool.

Homeless man
Creative Commons

Marijuana in Spain


weed nugsFor this week’s blog I really wanted to address the topic of marijuana in Spain because it is legal in Washington but not here (kind of) and it is also becoming a bigger issue in the United States at a federal level. Similar to most controversies surrounding marijuana, in Spain the controversy stems from the legality of it. If you talk to anyone around León they’ll tell you that the laws regarding marijuana are vague at best. There is a movement to legalize marijuana in Spain that is primarily supported by the Catalonian Region (on the east coast where Barcelona is located). Quite a few politicians from the more socialist type parties in Spain advocated for legalization in the last election cycle. An interesting facet to this debate though is that there are essentially, “marijuana social clubs” where smoking is legal. These clubs have guidelines for things like age, and amount allowed to be consumed at once and they are privately owned and they put another element into the debate of legalization.

The penalties in Spain for marijuana are nowhere near as drastic as in most of the United States. I actually interviewed the chief of the Drug Law Enforcement Department here in León, which is where I got almost all of the information for this article. He said that typically the fines are fairly small and are for smoking in public and possession. As a citizen you can also appeal the fine and take a sort of drug class where you have to prove you haven’t done any drugs for a certain amount of time and upon completion, the fine is waived. Another thing the chief explained is that they have the right to search you if they smell marijuana in the air or see you make a transaction where cash changes hands. The chief also mentioned that unless you are selling marijuana or growing with the intent to distribute for profit then it is pretty much impossible to go to jail for anything weed related. The police in Spain do not really care if it is your first time or your tenth time (although the amount of the fine can rise). There is not a three strikes and you’re out policy or anything like that. I would say minor possession “crimes” in Spain are more similar to speeding tickets in the United States than our drug crimes.

The main arguments for legalization are the revenue that could be obtained from it and the ability to regulate its use to make it safer by keeping it away from young people. The main arguments against legalization are that since more people would be under the influence that there would be an increase in traffic accidents since currently about 40% of people driving who are under the influence of an illegal drug have cannabis in their system at the time of the accident. When I asked the chief his opinion on legalization he said that he did not want it legalized because it still contributed to cancer. Originally I was like I think you need to do some research (obviously did not actually say that to him) but then I was talking to my professor and she said that weed is pretty much only smoked when it is mixed with tobacco here which could be the reason he thinks that way.

weed leaf

The interesting thing about calling marijuana illegal though is the fact that you are allowed to grow weed for personal consumption as long as it’s only one or two plants. You are not allowed to sell it though, which creates a fine line in the area of possession. As long as you smoke in your own house it is fine but it would also be legal if you went to a friends house to smoke, but you would be committing a crime on the way (I think).

This issue obviously relates to young people in Spain. Aside from alcohol, which really is not treated the same in Spain as it is in the United States; Marijuana is the next most likely drug to have been tried. The most common demographic to have smoked marijuana in the past month is 18 to 24. The median age for person to have tried weed for the first time is 18.6 years. With Spain being one of the top five countries in Europe for drug use, marijuana clearly plays a big part in growing up here. I was just down at the park the other day and these guys were just standing in a circle smoking away.

Marijuana is definitely not seen in the same way that it is in the United States and although our current Attorney General might think that, “good people don’t smoke Marijuana” I do think that the United States is trending toward a more similar attitude toward weed. The issue of legality in Spain, though important, is not as important as in the United States because people’s lives aren’t ruined for very small infractions.

Americans in Madrid

Madrid is an awesome city. It’s the capital of Spain and literally has everything you could want (including Taco Bell and Starbucks). Our class took a trip down to Madrid for a few days and I decided to stay a couple of extra days. I met so many other Americans those first couple of days that I decided to make a photo essay about Americans to see what they enjoyed the most. I wanted to be able to find new things to do for myself as well as make a small guide of what to do if any other Americans that read this make the trip to Madrid.

Sarah from Edmonds, Washington goes to Chapman College in California. Her favorite part of Madrid was the nightlife and meeting new people (Go Dawgs).
Elder Newman and Elder Iñesta are just beginning their mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their favorite place was the La iglesia de Jesuscristo de los Santos de los  ultimos días-Madrid (the largest Mormon Church in Madrid).

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John and Alec are both from New York and they agreed that Retiro park was their favorite part of Madrid. I think that I would have to agree with them on that.

Kym, PJ, and Grace are all studying abroad from Boise State University. They are all big soccer fans and Kym and PJ (the ones with the scarves) went to El Clásico (the biggest soccer game of the year in Spain between Real Madrid and Barcelona). Grace actually went to high school with me in Yakima, while Pj is from Idaho, and Kym is from Alaska.
Marsha and Alexis are from UT Austin and are studying abroad in Madrid. They both have really enjoyed Madrid so far and really recommend the food, specifically El buo tavernas la buha.

Free Food

Beer, wine, and free food. What else could I ask for? In León whenever you order a beverage at a bar they also give you something called a tapa. It is kind of like an appetizer to go along with your drinks except unlike an American appetizer it is 100% free. Just yesterday I went out for some tapas and for less than 2 euros (about $2 in the US) I received a beer and a plate that included fries, ham, bread, and eggs.


Tapas are part of the way of life here and nobody from León knows anything different. It is a part of their social culture. A social culture in which going to bars is less about getting drunk and more about social interaction. As my host mom told me, “People relax after a day at work by socializing.” Every night of the week at nine or ten o’clock the streets and bars are full of people enjoying their evening with a drink and tapas. Anybody from León would tell you that they have the best tapas (not surprisingly). After having went to Barcelona and Ibiza I have to agree. To be honest it is one of my favorite parts of living in León.

The other day I went to a bar called Las Tapas and they actually have a history of the tapa comic strip on one of the walls.

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For those who are not fluent in Spanish, the king was very hot and tired, and was trying to enjoy his drink but flies kept going in it. So he asked the waiter to cover it and he covered it with food. It worked well and the king also enjoyed the food. From then on a tradition of eating food while drinking was born (really rough translation, Spanish is hard).

Stay tuned for next week because I will be in Madrid for the next 5 days and will be writing about a surprise sub-culture. Gracias por leer!


Welcome to Spain

It isn’t often that you get the experience to travel at all. It is expensive, confusing, and most people just do not have the kind of time it takes to travel, especially internationally. I came to this conclusion toward the end of my junior and realized that after I graduate and join the workforce, I might never get the chance to experience another culture again. This brought me to where I am now, which is spending my last quarter of college living with a host family in León, Spain. Yes I will probably (hopefully) be able to take vacations when I’m older, and I will try my hardest to see as many awesome places as I can before I kick that proverbial bucket, but I don’t think I will ever have the same type of opportunity that I do right now to understand what it’s like to be from somewhere else.

My goal is to learn as much as possible about the experience of being from León and Spain itself by interviewing people of different ages and backgrounds who call León home. I will include pictures so you can put faces to names (and really who doesn’t like pictures). Along with this I hope to immerse myself in the culture here as much as possible and create my own León experience. Using both these tools I hope to tell a story about what it’s like to be from somewhere else not just a story about being somewhere else.

The reason that I chose this particular topic is that I think it is extremely important to be able to see things from another perspective than your own. The United States only makes up between 4-5 % of the world’s population. As Americans I think that we get hung up on how great America is and forget there is an entire planet to explore and understand.

The first thing that I noticed after living here for a couple of days is the difference in time between Spain and the United States (no not the 9 hours ahead time change). People do not go to work until about 10 am. Lunch is at about 2:30 and dinner is between 9:30 and 10:30. They have a siesta, which is like a midday break, from after lunch until about 5 pm. A group of us went out to a club this weekend and it didn’t start getting busy until 4 am and there was still a huge line to get in at 6:30 am when we left. Being late doesn’t really exist. You get there when you get there. It is pretty hard to adjust to but I actually really like it (especially the siesta).

I hope you all will join me on my exploration of Spain. I’ll be traveling all around the country including places like Barcelona, Ibiza, and Madrid. I am so blessed to have this opportunity and would love for you to share it with me. Good-bye America and hola España!     spain-flag