Dani hasn’t had many early mornings recently. More and more, he has found himself with nowhere to be during the day; he graduated high school more than ten years ago, and began working with his father in construction. He goes weeks without work now, trying his best to find odd jobs, local contracting work, and fly-by-night dishwashing. But the phone hasn’t been ringing: he is thirty-two years old, a high-school graduate, and a member of Spain’s new lost generation.
Dani’s is a common story in Southern Spain. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs during the financial crisis, as Spain, with its nascent manufacturing and construction industries, was particularly hard-hit by the credit crunch. Without banks to lend capital to companies to invest in new buildings, this generation was quite suddenly out of a job.
Most of them still are. Youth unemployment in Spain as a whole is over 50%; it’s even higher in the South where Daniel lives. The national unemployment rate hovers around 25%, the highest in the European Union; in 2005, the unemployment rate in Spain was 9.2%, only incrementally more than the EU average of 9.0%. Average income has dropped 4% while the cost of living has increased; seeing people in aging designer clothes foraging in the trash outside of grocery stores is commonplace. All of this, concludes a recent Cáritas report, has caused a “notable drop in well-being.”
The narrative in the United States has been one of recovery since the height of the crisis; in Spain, it has been one of cuts. Austerity measures imposed by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in conjunction with European Union officials and the European Central Bank have seen the ranks of Spain’s unemployed swell to 5.78 million people in October, up from 5.69 million in September, and 2.6 million four years ago.
If we have learned anything from the crisis in the United States it is that a financial regulatory system should not be based on outdated political policies like “too big to fail”—that regulatory regimes must be regulatory. In Spain, we can see the human cost of these failings; in Spain, we can see with particular clarity that the real effects of a financial crisis are on the day-to-day lives of the working class.
It is time for a new perspective on economic crises driven by this understanding. It is time to engage thoughtfully with the human costs of crises—of austerity measures imposed by governments that disproportionately harm the poor, of cuts to vital social services that leave young people like Dani with nowhere to turn. It is time to view the effects of financial crises through a human rights lens.