As many of you probably know, Spain is facing a terrible economic crisis. It is not quite as bad as Greece’s, but certainly worse than in the United States. The unemployment rate is a staggering 22.8%. Although not obvious to me at first, the depressing signs of a struggling economy have become more and more apparent – and personal for me.
The first signal of the economy’s deep problems were the stories I heard about my fellow auxiliares (new college graduates teaching English) not being paid for months. The way the auxiliary program works is the government sends the entire sum of our “scholarship” to the school and then the school pays us monthly. Ideally, the schools should have received the money back in October when the auxiliares first arrived, but the money was just not available. Some auxiliares were not paid until January, after living in Spain for almost four months. I was extremely fortunate because my school had extra funds to pay us for the first two months, but by the end of December the extra money had run out and a teacher had to take a pay cut. It makes you wonder if Spain can afford to continue the program – most likely the number of auxiliares will decrease next year.
Today’s economic situation is in stark contrast to when I studied here in 2009, and construction on a new metro/tram system had just begun. Flash forward to 2011 and the project is stalled with no end in sight. It is an eyesore with trash littered all over the construction zone, which is unfortunate since Granada is such a beautiful city. Posted all over the construction zones and telephone poles are hundreds of flyers advertising for work. There are women willing to clean houses or watch children, and there are men looking to do odd jobs. At this point, the people of Spain will take any sort of income they can find. As I’ve learned though, having a job doesn’t always guarantee payment. A teacher at my school told me that her brother found a job in Malaga, but wasn’t paid for at least a month.
Another sign of the crisis is the high demand for private English classes. Although you may think that there would be less demand if the parents can’t afford to pay for the classes, I have found that’s not the case. The parents understand that in order for their children to get a good job, it is important for them to speak English. I currently tutor for four different families, with the ages ranging from thirteen to two years old! They are willing to spend the money as long as it will help their children in the long run.
The Spanish lifestyle has also adapted to the economy. A friend who has lived here for three years told me she’s seen a significant change in the Spanish social life. The Spanish don’t go out for drinks and tapas or to the nightclubs as much as they used to. She said that most of the time if you go to a nightclub, the odds are most of the partyers will be foreigners. I recently read an article about a more drastic lifestyle change. In Spain they have holidays called “puentes,” or bridges. If a holiday falls on a Tuesday, that Monday is also a holiday. Here, there are fourteen federal holidays, not including regional ones. Therefore, it makes for a lot of days off in the year. Unfortunately for the Spanish, it seems that the government may have to get rid of the puentes in an effort to regain control of their economy.
What’s most concerning is that it seems the economy will get worse before it gets better. Although the new prime minister has several plans to pull Spain out of the crisis, it certainly will not happen overnight. Until it does, the Spanish people will have to continue to adapt.