Spain struggles with soaring unemployment

The latest figures for unemployment in Spain have reached 1.5 million -- equivalent to 11.2 percent of the active population. This is more than double the rate of unemployed in West Germany, France, and Britain.

Spain now has the highest rate of unemployed among the 18 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the smallest work force in Europe, representing only 34 percent of the total population.

During the second quarter of 1980, the official Spanish statistics institute changed the basis of computing the number of unemployed, causing considerable confusion. For the first time the institute decided to exclude 14-year-olds from the work force.

Instead, following international practice, it drew up a census of 16 -year-olds and over. In this way 800,000 people were excluded. But if they had been included, the total number of unemployed would be 1.52 million, equivalent to 11.7 percent of the active population.

Even with the new system two features stand out. There has been a sharp increase in unemployment among young Spaniards seeking work for the first time to 492,300, and in the number of unemployed agricultural workers (up 4 percent). In industry and the services, unemployment has risen slightly less than 3 percent. This was anticipated because of the continued industrial recession in Spain, and because of the decline in the number of tourists visiting Spain.

The three regions worst affected by unemployment are the Basque country in the northwest and Andalusia and Extremadura in the south. Unemployment in these regions is equivalent to 14 percent or more of the active population, adding to social and political tensions.

Against this background Jose Luis Leal, minister for economic affairs, has said that next year the main accent of the government's economic policies will be solving unemployment. Until now the only concrete measures taken by the present government against unemployment have been to increase public investment in housing, to raise the school leaving age to 16, and to lower the retirement age to 65.

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