Spain's school dropout zone Andalusia votes for jobs

Spain's school dropout zone Andalusia votes for jobs
Supporters listen as Andalusia's regional government president and Socialist candidate Susana Diaz (not pictured) makes her speech during the closing election campaign rally in the Andalusian capital of Seville March 20, 2015.

VILLAMARTIN, Spain - Daniel, Alejandro and Adrian had never had a real job before, but a few days before an election in their Andalusian home region one landed in each of their laps as if by magic.

In yellow vests, with brooms and rakes in hand, the three are chasing litter in the sunny streets of the small town of Villamartin.

In their early twenties, and jobless like millions of other Spaniards after abandoning their studies in their teens, they have now been given three weeks' menial work for 500 euros ($530) by local authorities.

That was a gesture by the Socialist Party which is competing for re-election in Andalusia on Sunday.

The region has the highest unemployment rate in Spain, nearly 60 per cent among the under 25s. Almost one in three pupils here leave school at 16, according to official data - among the highest rates in Spain.

"We vote for the one who gives us work," a young passerby jokes when he sees the three newly-recruited street-cleaners.

Jobs for boys

Eight years ago, Spanish youths were abandoning school to work on the building sites that sprouted in Spain's ill-fated building boom.

The bubble swelled particularly strongly in Andalusia, with its long sunny coastlines loved by foreign tourists.

"Pupils were dying to turn 16 so they could start working," says Fernando Garcia de Sola Marquez, a geography and history teacher in the local Castillo de Matrera high school.

"I told them, you won't have any qualifications. They said: 'After I turn 16, I will be earning more than you do as a teacher.' And it was true," Garcia said.

"A month later they'd have a new motorbike and ride up to the school gates to show off how much they were earning. That had a strong influence on the others." When the boom went bust, however, they joined the ranks of Spain's young "Ni-nis" or "Neither-nors" - neither a job nor a decent qualification.

School dropouts

The government says Spain is recovering from its six years of crisis - the economy grew by 1.4 per cent last year, according to official data.

"Spain is now undergoing a certain recovery but those people are finding it hard to find work because they are not sufficiently qualified," said Francisco Ferraro of the Andalusia Economic Observatory.

In 2013, Spain had the highest school dropout rate in the European Union, according to the Spanish government.

In Andalusia, the Socialists insist dropout rates have eased since 2009 and have promised more training and scholarships.

The conservative Popular Party, which governs nationally, has promised to create a million jobs in Andalusia by 2020.

The European Union and the Spanish government have poured hundreds of millions of euros into programmes for the unemployed in Andalusia.

Now Andalusia, with eight million inhabitants and an unemployment rate of 34 per cent, is a key testing ground of political sentiment ahead of a general election due around November.

Sunday's vote is spiced up by recent corruption scandals that have struck the Socialists and union leaders.

In one case, public officials are accused of embezzling money from training funds that had been aimed at boosting youth employment.

Men from the fields

As well as school-leavers, many in Andalusia abandoned the fields to work on building sites - particularly here in the southern province of Cadiz, which has an unemployment rate of 42 per cent.

The crisis has driven many workers back to the fields.

Daniel Naranjo, 25, left school at 16 to work in construction. Now he is leaving for a few weeks to pick strawberries in Huelva, 160 kilometres (100 miles) away from his home village of Puerto Serrano.

In construction "you could earn double or even triple what you earned in the fields," he said, strolling in his village with his partner Carmen and their two children.

"But now there is no more work" in building.

In the fields nearby, artichoke-pickers load their harvest into a van lent to them by the left-wing party Podemos, a serious challenger in the Andalusian and national polls.

A slogan in purple letters on its side reads: "Change begins in Andalusia."

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