Last summer, several employment records were broken. The historical maximum number of workers in Spain was reached, almost 21.3 million employed people, but another ceiling was also broken: that of the active population, people willing to work, which reached 24.1 million people. In the coming years, the labor market in Spain faces the challenge of becoming broader by reducing its level of unemployment, which reaches 2.8 million people, with the highest unemployment rate in the European Union.
The great boom in the active population between July and September is in fact explained because, despite the intense job creation in the summer (209,100 people), higher than the average for pre-pandemic years, unemployment also increased, by about 92,700 people. . It should be noted that much of the increase in unemployment corresponded to people looking for their first job (40,900) and the numbers of those who have been looking for a job for a short time also increased (less than three months, 88,300 people).
That the job market is expanding is good news. The levels of the activity rate, which measures assets in reference to the total population over 16 years of age), reflect that the percentage was reduced after the economic crisis and has not yet recovered.
Furthermore, expanding the active and working population is among the objectives of Spain and many other countries for the future of their Welfare States, in key issues such as the maintenance of public pensions. The OECD published its annual report this week, with a historical maximum of migrant arrivals to the states of the Club of rich countries, in which it agreed on the need for the foreign population to boost economic growth in the future in the face of aging the population.
Among whom the active population increases
The third quarter of the year is a favorable time for the increase in the active population, driven by seasonal hiring in the summer, especially among young people, and the start of the school year in September, very relevant in sectors such as education, explains Javier Blasco. , director of The Adecco Group Institute. These would be “seasonal” reasons, explains Blasco.
But this year the increase in the active population between July and September has been a record in recent decades (except for the ups and downs caused by the pandemic), of more than 300,000 people, and so far this year more powerful increases have been observed than in the past. In the last twelve months, the increase is almost 600,000 people more willing to work.
“It has to do with the fact that there are more opportunities,” considers Fernando Luján, deputy general secretary of Union Policy of UGT, who believes that there is an unemployed population that was previously discouraged due to the lack of options in the labor market and that is now returning to look for work. .
Luján assesses that the activation is not only explained because there is more employment, at historical highs, but also because “working conditions are better”, compared to what the labor reform claims, due to the great increase in indefinite contracts, as well as the increase in the minimum wage and the agreement of unions and employers to increase salaries.
There are other reasons that have been recorded for years, such as the incorporation of women into the labor market, more intense than in past times, as well as the increase in the elderly working population, mainly the result of the delay in the legal retirement age. , who is gradually approaching 67 years of age. The coalition government also encouraged delayed retirement, starting one year later than the retirement age, which is increasing the number of people who take advantage of this formula.
In addition, there is the rise of the foreign active population, very intense in this last quarter, with 144,200 incorporations that are added to the 157,600 Spanish people with dual nationality. In the last year, the incorporation of almost 600,000 more people into the active population is made up of 362,100 foreigners and 233,000 Spanish and dual nationals.
By region of origin of foreigners, the majority of people from Latin America stand out, 91,600 more active in the last quarter and 237,400 in the last year.
According to EPA data, the increase is not due to the arrival of new population, but to the incorporation into the labor market of people who were already in the country, in many cases “with more than four years of residence,” Raúl emphasizes. Olmos, from the Secretariat of Union Action and Employment of CCOO.
The activation of the foreign population targets mainly women, with an increase of 13% in the last year compared to 9% for men. In CCOO they make two readings of the increase in the foreign active population, “the general effect common to the entire active population of greater expectations of finding employment and the impact of inflation, which especially has a dent in households with adjusted income and may be activating women who were dedicating themselves to care,” explains Raúl Olmos.
Although not much time has passed, it must be remembered that the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration has approved several reforms to facilitate access to employment for the migrant population, such as minors and young people who have been placed under guardianship, resident students and those who take at least two years in the country thanks to the new “rooting by training”, among others. According to provisional figures from the Ministry of Labor, so far this year until June, 110,639 work authorizations were granted, almost 23% more than in the same period in 2022.
The challenge of reducing unemployment
After addressing abusive temporary work in the labor reform, the labor market in Spain has a second priority task: reducing its level of unemployment, from 11.8%, the highest in the EU. That is, provide employment opportunities to this active population at a maximum and which is expected to increase in the future.
To this end, there is unanimity among people who know the labor market in the need to improve public employment services, with more guidance and personalized support for job seekers. Also with more means for their requalification and for the training of workers throughout their working lives.
Javier Blasco highlights the need to improve orientation and make sectors of activity with a lack of labor and generational replacement more attractive, such as construction and certain positions in the industry, for which companies claim that they do not have candidates.
The director of The Adecco Group Institute also considers that active employment policies must be improved and a package of measures and incentives implemented to promote the employment of elderly people, where long-term unemployment often persists. “It makes sense from an economic and ethical point of view to dispense with the talent of people who still have a lot of potential and who can be retrained,” considers Blasco.
The unions also emphasize that European funds after the pandemic are “a great opportunity” to advance the long-awaited change in the productive model in Spain, with a greater commitment to industrial activities and high added value, which advance digitalization and transition to a greener economy.
“And we must face the distribution of work, thanks to the reduction in the working day,” considers Fernando Luján, a highly topical issue after the government agreement to reduce the maximum working day to 37 and a half hours per week. The deputy general secretary of Trade Union Policy of UGT maintains that “now people are much more productive than 40 years ago and companies are earning more”, which is why he considers that the measure is justified and can improve the occupational health and conciliation of workers. .