Spanish people facing unemployment over 20%

A woman leaves a government employment office in Marbella on January 27, 2012. Graffiti reads "You go first for a Spanish job." Spain's unemployment rate shot to 22.85 percent in the final quarter of 2011.

Jeremy Hobson: This week the new government of Spain is expected to announce a set of sweeping labor reforms. The government wants to give businesses more power to hire and fire and set employee salaries. Spain had a 23 percent unemployment rate at the end of last year. Let me just repeat that again: 23 percent.

Two people who are living that are Elena Prensa and Ana Diez. They're with us now from Madrid. Good morning.

Elena Prensa: Good morning.

Ana Diez: Good morning.

Hobson: Well Ana, let me start with you. Tell us about your situation and what's happened with your employment.

Diez: I used to work at an NGO. This NGO in particular depended mostly on government funds, and they had to fire people but I volunteered to be fired because at the time I had a little girl and I wanted to spend more time with her. I never thought it would be hard to find work later.

Hobson: And Elena, tell me about your situation.

Prensa: I am unemployed for two weeks. And well, I've been working my whole life; this is the first time that I am unemployed. Now I am going to take a big rest. I don't want to think about it too deeply, you know?

Hobson: Ana, let me go back to you. Tell us what it's like in Spain right now with an unemployment rate that high.

Diez: I think the key to understanding that high unemployment rate is you have to understand, in Spain, there is a huge black market economy. In the U.S., people are very law-abiding; in Spain, culturally people are not especially law-abiding. It's not uncommon for somebody to be legally living off unemployment and then unofficially getting money from some other job that they're not declaring.

Hobson: So Elena, is that your sense as well -- that the situation really isn't so bad, that people are able to get work, they have a safety net from the government with this unemployment, and things are not really so bad?

Prensa: Yes, yes, I totally agree with her. I think there is a big, big black market.

Hobson: The U.S. has about an 8.5 percent unemployment rate right now. Spain, as we said, has an unemployment rate of higher than 20 percent. But do you think -- Ana, we'll start with you -- that life is better there or here right now?

Diez: I think social services are very important and I think the U.S. lacks those social services. So I would say life is better in Spain because you have health care -- if your kids get sick, you know you're going to be able to take them to the doctor for free. You have those safety nets, which, I think that's essential to a good life.

Hobson: Elena, what about you -- do you think life is better in the United States or in Spain right now?

Prensa: I wouldn't mind to stay there in America for one year, maybe two years. And I would apply for a job there if I had the opportunity to do it. But, I'm Spanish, and I love the Spanish culture; it's very deep inside me.

Hobson: Elena Prensa and Ana Diez, joining us from Madrid. Thank you so much to both of you.

Prensa: Thank you to you.

Diez: Thank you.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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