Home » Job creations in southern Europe don’t tell the whole story: ‘Unemployment is dropping, because we accept miserable wages’

Job creations in southern Europe don’t tell the whole story: ‘Unemployment is dropping, because we accept miserable wages’

When it came to asking him about vacations, João Lima rolled his eyes. “There’s so much work, when do you expect me to leave?” For the past four years, barring the Covid-19 interlude, this 30-something from Lisbon has been working back-to-back contracts as waiter and tourist guide. “Exhausting, but I’m not complaining,” he said modestly.

In 2012, when he graduated from translation school, Portugal was plunging into recession. Finding work was impossible at the time. “I was unemployed for five years: it was terrible. Everyone in my generation was in the same boat. Some of his classmates went abroad. Those who stayed on survived thanks to family solidarity. João Lima found a new job in 2017, when the economy finally took off again.

Since then, Portugal has enjoyed an impressive economic turnaround, much like its southern Eurozone neighbors heavily penalized by the 2010 debt crisis. In 2023, its gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 2.3%, as much as that of Greece (2.3%) and Spain (2.5%), while the eurozone sank into stagnation (0.5%). Italy was slightly behind (0.7%) but did better than Germany (-0.3%).

Weaknesses in training

Buoyed by this recovery, the improvement on the employment front has been spectacular: Portugal’s unemployment rate, which peaked at 17.9% in early 2013, fell to 6.6% by the end of 2023, according to Eurostat. In Greece, it has fallen from 27% in 2014 to less than 10% today. Italy, meanwhile, created 456,000 jobs between the end of 2022 and the end of 2023, according to the national statistics institute (ISTAT), while unemployment stood at 7.2% in December 2023. In Spain, it still peaks at 11.7%, but that’s half the figure for 2013 (26%), and the country has created 783,000 jobs in 2023. A record, if we exclude the post-Covid rebound of 2021 and the large-scale regularizations of undocumented workers in 2005.

However, despite these good figures, the structural weakness of local employment remains significant. Disparities between regions are staggering: the unemployment rate is barely 6.3% in Spain’s Basque Country, compared with 17.6% in Andalusia, and 4.8% in Italy’s Lombardy region, compared with 17.1% in Campania.

Added to this is a persistent weakness in terms of training. According to Eurostat, over 35% of Portuguese, Italians, Spaniards and Greeks over the age of 25 have a level of education below the baccalaureate, compared to an EU average of 20%. Above all, despite the economic upturn, job insecurity has shown little sign of abating.

‘Miserable wages’

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