Let's start with the headline figures. In the last quarter of 2013, the general unemployment rate increased slightly from the previous quarter - from 25.98% to 26.03%. This means that, at the end of last year, 5,896,300 people in Spain were out of work.
It's worth looking at the figures a bit more in detail:
- The number of unemployed people went down by 8,400 in the fourth quarter of 2013, and by 69,000 in the year as a whole. This is positive, but has to be weighed against a significant fall in the economically active population - those working or actively looking for a job.
- Spain's active population decreased by 73,400 in the last quarter of 2013 alone, and by 267,900 in the year as a whole. As a result, the active population is now 59.43% of the total - the lowest level since the first quarter of 2008. The upshot of this is that, while the number of unemployed people may fall, a lot are simply switching to being economically inactive.
- The number of employed people went down, both in the fourth quarter of 2013 (-65,000 from Q3) and in the year as a whole (-198,900). However, it has to be said that the decline is less sharp than in the previous years.
- On a more positive note, the seasonally adjusted employment rate went up slightly (0.29%) in the fourth quarter of 2013, and it's the first time it happens since the first quarter of 2008. Similarly, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased by 1.22% from Q3. Again, though, this has to be put into perspective - notably with the reduction in the economically active population.
- One of the most concerning points comes with the level of long-term unemployment, which towards the end of last year reached new record highs. Over 13% of the active population have now been unemployed for twelve months or more (click on the graph below to enlarge). The knock-on effects of this are significant. It is well proven that the longer people are unemployed for, the harder it is for them to find work. It also diminishes their skill level and hampers future earning potential. This is worsened by the fact that, in Spain, many of these are likely to be younger workers.
The latest unemployment figures show that, despite some encouraging signals, it will still take time before Spanish citizens feel the recovery has started. It also means the Spanish government may consider a second round of reforms - perhaps more targeted at closing the gap between the education system and the needs of the labour market.