In Spain, completing university does not automatically lead to work in a related field, or even well paid work. Thousands of students have realised that beyond the oasis of university awaits a long trek through the desert.
Having a university degree, or even a Masters, now guarantees nothing. Graduates have no advantage in a market that is only looking for cheap labour. This has led to a huge number of young people – collectively known as nimis (nimileuristas, not even 1000 euros) – with a high level of education, whose monthly salary does not exceed three figures.
28-year-old Marta García from Barcelona, is classified as a nimis, a situation that was unthinkable for her in 2006 when she completed her degree in Marine Science with an average grade of 9.21.
“I looked for work related to the area that I had studied but I didn’t find anything that lived up to my expectations,” she said.
She refused to become part of the group of people known as mileuristas, who were often ridiculed for the fact that they been through higher education but went on to earn the same as those who had not. Marta ended up working in the marketing department of a shower door company. The basic salary of €1,500 (there were months when she earned up to €3000 from commissions) proved more of a pull than acquiring experience in her field of expertise.
That same year, 2006, the Spanish economy was booming with an annual growth of 4.1% of the GDP, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE). But after that the wind dropped and the economy plummeted, showing a growth of -3.7% in 2009.
Marta, like many others, began to notice the consequences of this recession when the company she worked for decided to reduce her salary to €1,058 and got rid of the commission system. She remained there for a few more months but eventually decided to leave: “I decided I needed to risk it, and search for a job that really motivated me.” She left stable employment in order to train and find work that was linked to her studies.
From that moment, she joined the never-ending list of the Spanish unemployed. The statistics are alarming: the rate of unemployment in Spain is 22.85%, or to put it another way, there are more than 5 million people unemployed. This record level is paralleled in that of youth unemployment – with almost 50% of young people unemployed (Eurostat).
Working in a different sector to that which you trained in or working without a contract has become the norm in Spain, just as doing it for less than €1000 a month has.
Some have refused to become nimis and have packed their bags and gone off in search of a labour market with more opportunities.
According to the Spanish Census for Absent Spanish Residents (CERA), the emigration of Spanish residents since the crisis began in 2008 has risen by 21.9%. The UK is one of the most popular destinations for young people, with almost 55,000 Spanish people living there in December 2011 – 16.4% more than when the recession began.
This is not the case with Marta, who has still not considered broadening her horizons but has been obliged to substantially modify her life. Since she left her marketing job she has left the flat that she shared with friends and returned to live with her mother. Others have never even managed to leave home. “I had to reduce my expenses and the €400 I spent on rent was the first to go”, said Martha.
Dealing with this in a city like Barcelona is complicated. The nimis really have to walk the tightrope every month to cope in a country where the prices never go down and the salaries never go up.
The Spanish minimum wage is €641.40 a month for full-time work. The minimum hourly wage is €5.02 (£4). These are ridiculous wages when compared with the minimum wage in other European countries such as France (€1,365) or the UK (€1,230).
After various volunteer jobs, Marta is more convinced than ever that she will never work in her specialisation. For that reason she is now preparing for an open competition that would entitle her to a job for life as a research assistant. In total 1,400 marine biologists have applied for one of the 27 positions offered by the Spanish state.
However, even with this high level of competition, the monthly salary does not exceed €1000. For now, Marta has found a part time job that allows her to continue her exam preparation.
Marta García’s situation is not an isolated case but rather an illustration of the frustration felt by young Spanish people. The generation nimis is the most qualified generation in the history of the country and also the most vulnerable. But the most worrying thing is that the situation is not expected to improve.
Despite everything, Marta is still able to laugh at the situation:
“I don’t know what my future holds, the only thing I know is that I am 28, I earn €500 a month, I am living with my mother and at this point, I am considering asking for pocket money again.”
(Translated by Anna Lawes – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)