Friday, April 01, 2016

The Problem With The Balearic Young

Some years ago, a parent (English, married to a Mallorcan) told me that if she had a choice the family would move to Palma from Puerto Pollensa. Her concern was with her son's education. The city, Palma, was serious in a way that Puerto Pollensa was not. The education to be received there might have been good enough. But where was that education leading? The local kids, she explained, observed how things were in Puerto Pollensa: the summers of beach and having a good time. The summer had a hold. Education wasn't so important. Why worry too much with it when summers would mean bar and other seasonal jobs which would fund the fun of summer. Education was caught in a vice of summertime ethos.

These were remarks made pre-crisis. One positive aspect of crisis was that it addressed the lamentably high school dropout rate among Balearic sixteen-year-olds. Puerto Pollensa was not the only place to be affected by the abrupt disruption of that easy life of summertime. Staying on at school became more attractive. But despite this, the Balearics still lag well behind the rest of Spain in this regard - ten percentage points behind a national average of 95% of 16-year-olds who stay on at school. The actual school failure rate also shows a ten per cent difference: 32% as opposed to a national 22.

The problems with an underperforming state education system in the Balearics are well known and have been much discussed. While fingers might be pointed in the direction of politicians and teachers (their organisations more than individuals) and more crucially the system itself, none can be held wholly to account. There appears to be a more deep-seated malaise - a social one that is linked inextricably to the nature of the job market.

The Gadeso research foundation has reported this week that 21.4% of those aged between 20 and 24 fall into the category of the "ni-ni", someone who neither works nor studies. In comparative terms, the Balearics are not as bad in this regard as with school performance: the national rate is 20.6%. They presumably find their way into the unemployment statistics. The Labour Force Survey for the final quarter of 2015 placed this at just under 45% for this age group. The rate is very much worse for the 16 to 19 group below it: getting on for 75%.

Seasonality obviously influences fourth quarter figures, but it is this - seasonality - which explains so much. It isn't only the young who are affected in a harmful fashion, but they are harmed more than most.

Crisis put the opportunities of the young into sharp relief and most certainly not only in the Balearics and Spain. But it gave rise to some extraordinary disruption. Away from the Balearics there was the case of the town of Benalup in Andalusia, a community all but destroyed when the construction industry collapsed and took with it great numbers of young people who had left school to work in the industry, had been earning very good money, bought properties with cheap mortgages, only for it all to suddenly and devastatingly go Benalup.

To address the problem of unemployment among the young there, training courses were introduced. As with Mallorca, these training courses have provided a glut of people with qualifications as, for example, web and graphic designers. An economy cannot, however, survive on design. How many designers does any one economy actually need?

Of ministers in the current Balearic government, there is one who seems to be doing his work diligently. He is the employment (and trade) minister, Iago Negueruela. His is arguably the most difficult of the portfolios of government. He is variously charged with tackling job-market seasonality, working conditions and contracts, diversification of the economy and of course unemployment full stop. But his is not work that is in isolation. It is tied in with Biel Barceló's tourism (and innovation and development) ministry and Marti March's education ministry. At more distance, but also important, is Vicenç Vidal's agriculture portfolio. Why this? There is a serious deficiency in the number of young people in the agriculture sector.

Farming, though, is no more a game-changing panacea for youth unemployment woes than is Barceló's desire for innovation. Nor is the youth guarantee work scheme for which Negueruela is responsible. The take-up is nothing like he would hope that it would be. Nor, might it be said, will be government coercion - aimed principally at the hoteliers - to introduce higher-paid and full contracts. Even a left-wing regime can interfere or intervene only so much in the workings of the market.

One wonders, though, how much of an improvement the government can make. Is it the case that there is an attitudinal problem, as the parent from Puerto Pollensa suggested? Is this the nature of the beast? If so, it is a beast that Mallorca has bred.

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