Even though Spain's economy is out of recession, youth unemployment has hit 57.7 percent — more than double the continent's average. Economists say it could be years before jobs return. By then, many Spanish 20-somethings — dubbed the "lost generation" — will have missed a decade or more of work.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And Spain has finally emerged from a painful recession. That's little comfort for those still out of work, and especially the young. More than half of 20-somethings in Spain are unemployed - far higher than the average in the rest of Europe. From Madrid, Lauren Frayer reports on what's come to be known as Spain's lost generation.
LAURA SILVA KIRKPATRICK: Hi.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi, I'm Lauren.
FRAYER: Nice to meet you.
FRAYER: Thank you for having me.
FRAYER: Laura Silva Kirkpatrick is a bubbly redhead who lives with her husband Ricardo in a low-income barrio in the south of Madrid. They're 28 and 29. They graduated at the top of their college classes. But both are unemployed.
KIRKPATRICK: I went to college. And I decided to study advertising and PR 'cause I thought I would be good at it. I'm really creative. By the time I finished the degree is when the whole crisis began.
FRAYER: The only thing on offer was unpaid internships. But Laura and Ricardo had rent to pay. The both have Masters' degrees but...
RICARDO: I couldn't find a job. And I started working selling...
FRAYER: At a sporting goods store, just a three-month job over Christmas. And even that was difficult to get.
RICARDO: They can find thousands of people with experience.
KIRKPATRICK: And with a Masters'.
RICARDO: So they want a person who - with the degree, with experience and talking English and...
KIRKPATRICK: They can ask for whatever they want because they're going to find it.
RICARDO: Because there are a lot of people. (Laughing).
FRAYER: Neither Laura nor Ricardo can collect unemployment because they've never worked a full year, which is needed to qualify. They live off savings now, but Laura's perfect English - her mother is American - got her teaching a job for the fall. Their income will be around $15,000 a year before tax.
KIRKPATRICK: It's not a lot. You feel proud when you do finish high school and you get that diploma and you're accepted into college. You feel like you're on the right path to getting somewhere. And then five years later, you find that not only you're not going to get a job, if you did you would make less money than if you did working as a waitress or in retail. I think that's pretty much the saddest part of it. Why bother going to college at all?
FRAYER: A generation of Spaniards is asking just that. Ricardo recalls how 10 years ago his classmates were dropping out of high school to get rich working construction in Spain's building boom.
RICARDO: When they were 16 years old, they were driving BMWs - the car. But now they are pretty bad. They and their fathers don't have a job.
FRAYER: Ricardo and Laura thought their education would help them survive the crash. But when Spain's construction bubble burst in 2008, it dragged down the entire economy. Even now that the recession is over, jobs have not bounced back. The unemployment rate for people in their 20s is near 57 percent.
FRANCISCO BELIL: With the boom of the economy in Spain, everybody's aspiration was, I send my kids to the university, they will get a degree and they are going to have a fantastic life.
FRAYER: Francisco Belil is a Spanish executive who has worked in Germany. He wants Spanish companies to apply the German model of vocational training and make it prestigious.
RAMON ESPINAR: Spain has many more professional people with Masters' than Germany. And this doesn't make any sense.
FRAYER: At a bar in downtown Madrid where you get free tapas with your drink, I meet up with Ramon Espinar. He dropped out of a Ph.D. program when he saw the writing on the wall, and helped start the lobby group Juventud Sin Futuro - youth without a future.
ESPINAR: It's no longer what do you dream about your life? That was our problem six, seven years ago. Now nobody thinks in terms of dreams. Everybody's thinking in terms of surviving.
FRAYER: Ramon is 27, and now works part-time as a telemarketer. He says Spain has broken its promise to its youth, many of whom did exactly what their guidance counselors told them. Many are now moving abroad. They representative an investment Spain made, which it's now losing.
ESPINAR: They paid for my education. A lot - a lot in my primary education, the founding for my Ph.D. That's a lot of money which is now leaving the country. And it's another country who will get the benefits because my country has no longer a project for me and for society - both. And that's the drama.
FRAYER: Back in their apartment in the south of Madrid, Laura and Ricardo make homemade gazpacho - cold tomato soup. They go to farewell parties for friends moving abroad. They've put off having kids. They can't afford it. And they try to figure out what to do.
KIRKPATRICK: Study again, change careers, study another Masters'. I think it's killing time more than anything until the crisis finishes.
FRAYER: By then if jobs do return to Spain people, like Laura and Ricardo, Spain's lost generation, will have missed a decade or more of work. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.