With economy plummeting, food scavenging on the rise in Spain

The World

Spain’s unemployment rate is the highest in the euro zone.

The stock exchange in Madrid saw improvements Thursday: Investors were comforted by the government’s decision to take over Bankia, one of the country’s largest banks. But the upswing offered little relief to the masses of unemployed Spaniards struggling to make ends meet. 

A 62-year-old Romanian immigrant spent the morning at Merca Madrid, Spain’s largest wholesale food market. Supermarket and restaurant buyers frequent the market for fresh produce and seafood, but he was there to scavenge food for his family.

“I’m unemployed and I can’t find work, I need to find a way to survive,” he said. “The local government no longer has money to pay for people like me. I have a family — a wife and two daughters who live with me. Our apartment costs about $800 a month plus utilities.”

Groups who work with the poor in Spain say food scavenging is becoming more and more common, as are visits to soup kitchens and other charities. Gabriela Jorquera, with the Madrid network in the fight against poverty, said welfare payments are running out and the recession can be felt across society.

“We’re seeing younger and younger people falling into poverty,” Jorquera said. “Single parent families and immigrants have been especially hit by the crisis. The number of Spain’s working poor has been growing at an alarming rate. Over the last two years, two million more people have entered this at-risk category bringing the total to over 12 million.”

Jorquera thinks the government should boost welfare payments and invest in job training and education, but the country is in the midst of an economic crisis. Since the Spanish housing market collapsed in 2008, banks have taken on toxic loans and foreclosures have further burdened the economy.

The government approved it’s fourth bank rescue package in three years on Wednesday, a package totaling $30 billion dollars. Friday morning, the Spanish government announced it will force banks to set aside more funds to cover a €175 billion exposure to the real estate sector. With limited public funds available, the government is left with little maneuvering room, and even Spaniards with jobs are concerned.

A construction supply warehouse loader in Barcelona said he thinks his job is safe, but his two grown children with law degrees have not been as lucky.

“The two of them are living at home with me,” he said. “I used to think at this age with their schooling finished, my kids would’ve flown the nest, but these days it’s impossible.”

Many young people have chosen to live with their parents, but for immigrants like the man at Merca Madrid, relying on family is not an option.

“Who is going to hire a guy who is 62?” he asked. “No one is going to hire me just so I can reach retirement and quit. One must trust in the future, that it will bring us something better.”

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