Queues swell at Spain’s job centres, soup kitchens
As Spain's unemployment rate soars to record highs, the queues are forming at job centres and soup kitchens, where the poor and the middle class, Spaniards and immigrants alike, are joining the line.
“This canteen has been here since I was little. I used to look it at from the other side of the road. It never crossed my mind I would have to come here,” said Antonio, 58, at a charitable food hall run by nuns in Madrid.
Spain’s national statistics agency announced on Friday that the unemployment rate hit a 17-year record of 22.85 percent at the end of 2011 — the highest in the industrialised world, with 5.27 million eligible people out of work.
Among those aged 16 to 24, the rate surged to 51.4 percent.
Having begun its steep climb with the abrupt end of a building boom in 2008, tough spending cuts aimed at cutting Spain’s deficit are now spreading the pain.
During his 37 years working as a technical auxiliary in a hospital, Antonio never saw himself needing handouts.
Single and now jobless for three years, his work prospects undermined by a bone disease, and with most of his benefits spent on rent, he relies on the Daughters of Charity for meals.
“I’ve had a relatively good life, but the way things are now with the economy, I can’t find work even with all my experience,” said Antonio, who would not give his full name.
Across town at a job centre in the suburb of Vallecas, a working class district of red-brick housing blocks, Isabel Ruiz, 40, queues to sign on for job-seeker’s benefits to support herself and her 15-month-old son.
A social worker who strung together temporary contracts to replace colleagues on vacation or sick leave, Ruiz has seen demand for her services dry up.
“The local authorities are cutting now more than ever. Before, the agency would call me all the time. Now you can go six months of the year without them calling,” she said.
“They are no longer taking on supply staff when people go on holiday.”
New faces are joining the line. Daniel Gazdoiu, 44, turns up to sign on after work dried up this month at the building firm where he worked for six years as a truck driver.
His story is a familiar one among the immigrant workers who were among the first to be hit when the economic trouble started.
“I’ve just been made unemployed. It’s the second time. I spent two months last year without work,” said Gazdoiu, who came to Spain from Romania 10 years ago at the height of the building boom.
“There’s no work now. Things are bad. We’ll see if we manage to find some work, here or in another country.”
In the Daughters of Charity’s courtyard, dozens of people wait in line for the bell to ring for the next lunch sitting.
“I come here every day. They serve everything — pasta, beans. They provide clothes,” says Tomas Rodriguez, 32.
Born and raised in Madrid, he earned his living for 14 years stacking shelves in supermarkets before losing his job two years ago.
Now he travels an hour by bus each morning from a homeless shelter in the suburbs to have lunch at the free canteen.
The afternoon he often spends walking to and from municipal offices, filling out forms to apply for hardship benefits, and travels back to the shelter in the evening.
“I’ve sent letters everywhere. There is no work.” he says. “My parents are retired but they say I can only go back and live with them if I contribute.”
Along with Romanian cleaning ladies and builders from Bulgaria and Ecuador — all out of work for at least the past two or three years — Antonio smokes and shivers in the cold.
“The standard of living has fallen for everyone,” he says. “We are facing ruin and misery. It has completely destroyed even people who have a profession and who have had an average standard of living.”