return to nē43

by Rafael Pradas

Youth is one the segments of population most heavily affected by the current shortage of jobs. Unemployment, the scourge of this turn of the century, is a particularly bitter blow for those girls and boys who, as children, had been promised a golden future of gratifying working hours and a lot of leisure time to spend pleasurably. Now they are faced with a much harsher reality. They do not spend their free time enjoying leisure activities, but looking through the job vacancy ads in the newspapers. Barcelona, just as other cities in our environment, could not escape from all the social changes that such a situation involves.
(...) Young people are presently faced with two absolutely contradictory situations that nevertheless have their roots in the same reality. On the one hand, nearly three quarters of the young men and women aged between 25 and 29 are still living with their parents, mostly through lack of financial independence. On the other hand, those who are lucky enough to find a job - and even, in some cases, to be "successful" at it - usually find themselves subject to such extraordinary pressures that they hardly find time to "take things easy" because the atmosphere of competitiveness is so ferocious that one single mistake can leave them out of the game. Did you notice the requirements applicants for jobs are expected to meet ? Employers demand that 25-year old applicants, for instance, have the kind of professional experience they have had no time to acquire. "I think that companies set forth so many requirements because they know that you cannot possibly meet them all. That's how they have you trapped : it looks as if they were doing you a favour by engaging you, so they have the upper hand when discussing your wages. And, if you make a mistake, they threaten you with dismissal, arguing that they could easily find a more qualified replacement", says Oriol, aged 25, who is working for an important service company. It means that young people cannot afford to "slow down" at any time, because nobody is granted a job for life any more, if we except public employees or those who work for very sound service companies. The common trait we can infer from the analysis of individual situations is that the concept of "youth" such as we understand it has radically changed.
(...) A recurrent subject of conversation among middle-aged married couples is the difficult relationship between young people and their families or, to be more precise, the rather atypical situations, if not special tensions, created by these young adults' extended stay at their parents' home. Many young people thus remain "young" for a longer time, but they are young in a different way because their freedom is limited. According to psychologists, unemployment makes them more immature as it somehow prolongs their childhood. Insofar as their children have less prospects of becoming really independent, parents tend to feel overprotective towards them. We are therefore facing a situation that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago : a generally harmonious coexistence between generations, even though apparences are often deceptive. In all truth, parents and children alike do not lay all their cards on the table because they are also acting for self-interested reasons : many parents actually like to have their children living at home and many children know that their capacity to make concessions in some aspects is a guarantee of security and convenience in others. "I prefer my children to be living with us because at least I know that they have all the essentials", says a father who lives in the Gracia district and whose children - aged 27 and 29 - still live at home. But all parents are not of the same opinion : "At their age, I was already married and had one child, I think that young people should become independent when it is their turn", says a mother who also lives in the Gracia district with her two daughters who have no plans to leave their parents' home in a near future. But what do young people think about this situation ? "My parents are very nice to me but, to tell the truth, it is rather a drag to live in their house " (Mercč, aged 26). "I don't have any special problem. At home, everyone goes their own way, but we all have to make some concessions. I know that my parents are making an effort and I have to do my bit too" (Alex, 28 years old). "They could have an easy life now, coming and going as they please, travelling around, but I am a hindrance. And my mother does not seem to understand that the reason why I am still living with them is that I am financially unable to have a place of my own, so she treats me as if I were still ten years old" (Mireia, aged 27). (...)
It is true that the family is acting as a "social cushion", because only one out of every three citizens aged between 24 and 29 is actually self-sufficient financially speaking. Effectively, the fact that many young people are still living at their parents' home, sharing whatever resources are available, is undoubtedly preventing explosive situations of social conflict from developing and saving thousands of young citizens from social exclusion. Being assured of getting three meals a day, clean clothes, a freshly made bed and some money in their pocket as well as feeling loved by their family greatly help to soften the impact of the plight these young people are in, but it is obvious that such a situation does not solve their main problem, because what can really compensate them for the frustration of being denied an opportunity to "succeed in life" ? "I don't ask for much. I would like to have my own apartment, get married and be able to bring up one or two children. But I don't know how to start", (Marc, aged 26, who is working part-time in a shop not far from his home in the Sants district). (...)
Parents have had to adjust to this new situation and adopt a more liberal attitude, accepting their children's comings and goings and the presence of their girlfriends or boyfriends who often end up being integrated into the landscape of the family. However, the standpoint of those who are keen on bringing such concepts as "convenience" or "happiness" or "irresponsibility" to the fore ought to be contrasted with the reality of a situation in which the attitudes of indolence, indifference or scepticism displayed by young adults have basically to do with their lack of professional prospects and the economically precarious position which they are being condemned to. "He spends most of his time lying down on the sofa, reading or watching television. On sundays, he looks through the job vacancy ads in the newspaper but, on monday night, after making a few phone calls or going to some fruitless interview for a job, he lapses back into resigned despair. And he starts again with the same routine, week in, week out !", says with bitterness a mother whose 25 years old son is unemployed and rather poorly qualified. "I admit that my son should be more enterprising, more willing to try his best, but we've got friends whose son has a university degree and he cannot find work either".
Such a situation does not precisely stimulate either risky initiatives or revolutionary attitudes : many parents are harping again on the old tune - essentially intended for girls - that presents marriage as a good way out. Providing that you make the right choice, of course. If there are no suitable "fair knight" in view, you'd better stay at home... "Some of my girlfriends were so eager to leave their parents' house that they rushed into marriage, but it has turned out to be a change for the worse : now they have to do all those household chores, they're plagued by financial problems and, besides, they have to put up with a husband who is not happy either. No, thanks, I prefer to go on living the way I do now. At least, with my parents, I feel freer", says Anna, who will soon be 30. (...)
In that sense, Barcelona is a contradictory city. There is a large concentration of young people who are in a difficult situation, both professionally and personally speaking but, at the same time, Barcelona is the best available market for people who want work. It is obviously a city in which it is expensive to live, but it is also a city which provides many opportunities not only in terms of training and education, but also where self-employment and collective labour are concerned. The policy currently pursued, orientated towards the renovation of old buildings and the construction of new reasonably priced apartment houses in the vicinity of the ring roads, might help to put a stop to the outflow of people who cannot pay the prohibitive prices asked on Barcelona's housing market and have to leave the city to find a place they can afford. It might be a way to prevent young Barcelona residents from becoming an endangered species...