Last spring, I took time off writing for the Opinion section of WSN to study abroad in Madrid for the semester. This experience left me with a bona fide admiration for Spain’s energy and intensity of spirit despite its current political and economic circumstances. However, my time abroad also greeted me with a newfound appreciation for opportunistic America — a nation where hope remains for youth who will graduate and apply for jobs.
Madrid is the epicenter of urban Spain: exciting and beautiful, the people are carefree and noisy. I lived in a very residential neighborhood of Spain’s capital, and I would still wake up to the loud voices of young Madrileños at all hours of the night. Fastened to family and traditions with staunch patriotism, the Spanish youth paint a picture of both light and shadow.
While the Spanish youth love their country, they have become increasingly restless and fed up with the lack of mobility in Spain’s economy — those aged 18 to 30 are facing a future that leaves them with a lower quality of life than their parents. In this day and age, that should be unheard of. But it is the harsh reality for a country that has felt the burn of the 2009 economic collapse much more than other EU countries. Now Spain faces the generation of the mileuristas: a term for the well-educated young people who are working in jobs that pay a mere 1,000 euros a month. But 52.9 percent of Spanish youth under the age of 25 are currently unemployed.
Spain has become Europe’s silent slum. Booming in 2006, Spain had more homes under construction than Germany, France, Italy and the U.K. combined. But in 2008 the real estate bubble burst, and millions of jobs were lost. The tragedy is that now the young are more educated and more qualified than ever, but have less and less job opportunities.
I have learned from my experience in Spain that the United States’ economy is a fairly independent one; immense in size and resilient. We continue to bounce back.
When I was in Madrid, people in the city center of Puerta del Sol led fiery protests, calling themselves the indignados, or the angry ones. Chanting, “They do not represent us.” Spaniards my age denounced the two main Spanish political parties, claiming they have ignored and forgotten about the people. These people weren’t lazy 30-year-olds, sitting in complacency at home under the roof of their parents. These people were just out of college, speaking out angrily against the growing sense of hopelessness for their – our – generation.
Spain’s story shows us that the Euro Zone’s problems go far beyond exorbitant borrowing by irresponsible governments. The pendulum of social liberties has swung too far one way, with countries like Greece and Italy sharing devastating work habits like early retirement. There needs to be a balance between capitalism and socialism. Young people in Spain who are prepared to be directors, teachers and doctors are working in supermarkets and bars. While I will sincerely miss the new and exciting experiences I had in Madrid, I know I am fortunate to have my home in the United States.
A version of this article appeared in the Sept. 4 print edition. Raquel Woodruff is a staff columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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