Spain’s Lost Generation Spends Salad Days Toiling in U.K.
Carlos Hernandez Sonseca studied six years for a bachelor’s degree and couldn’t find a job near his home outside Madrid when he graduated in 2011. Last year, he took an increasingly well-worn path to the U.K.
The 27-year-old journalist now washes and chops vegetables eight hours a day at the Vital Ingredient salad bar in London’s financial district, making 260 pounds ($418) before taxes in a 40-hour week. Thirteen other Spaniards are among a workforce of 17, said manager Francisco “Chico” Baumle, a Brazilian.
U.K. fast-food jobs and other low-wage roles have been dominated by Poles and others who arrived after the European Union expanded eastward in 2004. Now they’re joined by young Spaniards who can’t find work at home, where unemployment hit 25 percent last year. In the financial year to April, 30,370 Spaniards registered to work in the U.K., up 25 percent from the previous year, and more than double the 2009-10 levels, according to data from the Department for Work and Pensions.
“We are a lost generation, for sure,” Hernandez Sonseca said. “Spain has nothing to offer us, so we go abroad and we work as salad makers and kitchen porters. They are losing money and they are losing skilled people.”
The newest workers have it toughest in Spain’s labor market, where the jobless rate among adults under 25 reached 52 percent in the third quarter of 2012, according to the most recent data from Spain’s National Institute of Statistics.
The unemployment rate in the fourth quarter, due to be released tomorrow by the institute, probably rose to 26 percent, according to the median of 10 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. In the U.K., where the unemployment rate is 7.7 percent, jobless claims unexpectedly fell in December, the Office for National Statistics said today.
Hernandez Sonseca is one of three members of his university class now working at the same salad bar. His colleague Pablo Medina Martin came to London in January 2012 and ran down his savings during a month-long job hunt. He cleared tables and unloaded deliveries at a McDonald’s Corp. (MCD) restaurant in east London before moving to the salad bar in May.
“When I went to university, I never thought I’d end up working in a McDonald’s,” said Medina Martin. “In Spain, the staff in McDonald’s tends to be from South America, Ecuador, Colombia, the immigrants. Here in London, we’ve realized we’re the ones who are the immigrants.”
The U.K. has been the biggest destination for emigrating Spaniards for eight of the past 10 years for which data is available, according to the University of Oxford’s Determinants of International Migration project, which analyzes consulate data.
“Higher-educated Spaniards are unemployed, and even doctorate holders have higher rates of unemployment than in other European countries,” Maria Villares-Varela, a project researcher at Oxford’s International Migration Institute, said in an e-mail. “You can point to these factors as attracting youth to other countries.”
Spaniards arriving in Britain aren’t just taking jobs in shops and restaurants. Maria Paz Exposito, who manages the Barcelona-based nanny-placement website www.aupairspain.com, said she’s seen a 25 percent increase in young people seeking au pair work compared with two years ago. “Their first target is the U.K.,” she said.
There’s skilled work available, too. After computer programmer Belen Albeza finished her master’s degree in Barcelona in 2010, she ruled out working in Spain because her potential earnings would just cover expenses.
“It was as cold as looking at the numbers,” Albeza said. “The math added up in London.”
Albeza said she sent her resume to friends in London. Within 15 days, she had job interviews via Skype that led to a position as a programmer. She now works at a telecommunications company and said she’s able to save.
Her friend Soledad Penades was asked to advise her compatriots so often that she posted a “Spanish Guide to Working in London” on the Internet to offer advice.
“I was getting tired of answering the same questions once, and once, and once again,” said Penades, a programmer who moved to the U.K. before the 2008 financial crisis. Her guide has received more than 3,000 hits, she said.
The opportunity to learn English is an advantage of London, according to Medina Martin, who said he wants to be “proud” of his language skills when he returns to Spain. That’s also a focus for Carmen Serrano, a 27-year-old from Valencia who has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alicante University.
Serrano emigrated in 2011 after five months seeking work in Barcelona. After stints in an EU post in Ireland and a restaurant in London’s Canary Wharf, she now works at Mexican chain restaurant Chilango in the financial district.
“I’m trying to have low goals, to learn English,” Serrano said. “If not, it’s depressing.”
Like Serrano, Hernandez Sonseca can’t currently envision a future in his homeland, where one of every three jobless in the euro region reside.
“I don’t even think about buying a house or settling down because I cannot do it,” Hernandez Sonseca said. “If the economy there gets better, then maybe. It will be at least 10 years.”
For his colleague and compatriot Raquel del Rosario, 29, it’s hard to accept working in a job like one she had in a bakery 12 years ago.
Since then, del Rosario said she studied accounting and finance for four years in her native Tenerife before becoming a trainee accountant in the Canary Islands in 2005. She used her final pay-check after being fired from a subsequent job selling cars to move to Chichester, England, in 2010 to work and study. In September she began preparing salads for 6.25 pounds an hour at Vital Ingredient.
“I get depressed when I think ‘oh my God, five years ago I was working for 2,000 euros a month,’” del Rosario said. “But I have a job, I can pay for myself. I came here with no job, knowing nobody. I made my own way.”