Eurozone crisis: will Spain's youth exodus weaken economy?
Preliminary data show that the number of young Spaniards emigrating in search of better jobs has nearly doubled since 2010. Some say the experience they get could ultimately benefit Spain.
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In 2011, out of a half-million people who emigrated to other countries only 12 percent were Spanish-born. The rest were foreign immigrants going back home, mostly from the European Union, Northern Africa, and South America.Skip to next paragraph
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Out of proportion
But many experts warn that the issue is being blown out of proportion. There’s little that can be done to reverse the trend with Spain’s current dire economic forecasts. Moreover, experts warn many more will leave, an expected consequence of high unemployment, especially among those under 35 years old, half of whom are without a job.
“I think [calling it a] brain drain is an exaggeration. It’s more like a loss of human capital, and very limited at that,” says Joaquín Arango, a migration expert at the Group of Population and Society Studies, a Spanish think tank, and a sociology professor at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. “These are just estimates. Quantifying departures is very hard and carries a huge error margin.”
“It’s significant, though,” he adds, “because it shows a trend. This crisis is very serious and it’s especially affecting the young, so it’s normal that they would seek other opportunities, among other reasons because they are mobile and have little to look forward to here.”
In the short term, migration will be good, some analysts argue, as most youths are unemployed anyway and thus the Spanish unemployment rate should fall, albeit moderately. Furthermore, it is likely to create an internationally experienced generation of Spanish-educated professionals, most of whom will return when the economy turns around.
“I’d say this is more of a brain train, than a brain drain,” says Gayle Allard, an economics professor at Spain’s IE Business School. “As long as they come back, and knowing Spain, they probably will, I don’t think it’s a tragedy. It’s the push that these young [people] need to find the skills that Spain wants.”
“I tend to think in a country as closed as Spain traditionally is, where people stay home, this is going to be a plus. They’ll come back with experience and more languages,” Ms. Allard adds.
Mr. Coppola is planning to come back, but not before Spain’s economy improves.
“I don’t think there’s anything the government can do to fix this, not for another three or four years,” he says. “We’ll come back then, but I’ll have the experience of working in the US.”
Spain’s economy could take a lot longer than that to recover, after which luring all that talent will be increasingly difficult, points out Dr. Arango.
“As long as this crisis continues, the departure trend will not change,” he says. “We’ll have a problem if this becomes chronic and people don’t return. But right now, with the economy in this shape, there are other priorities.”