There was a time when investors and analysts looked admiringly at the emerging economic powerhouses of Europe: Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain. Then came the 2008 financial crisis and those four booming economies became the acronymic PIGS of the global recession.

That was more than 11 years ago and Spain is still on its way back. It's not all the way back, though, in some ways that are particularly onerous to young Spaniards.

Here's a look at Spain's recent progress on six key factors: economic growth, consumer consumption, government debt, emigration, income disparity, and unemployment.

Economic Growth

Spain's economic growth for all of 2018 was twice the rate of European Union nations as a whole. However, it wasn't quite as good as had been expected. The nation's long recovery appeared to have lost momentum.

The Spanish economy grew at a rate of 2.4% in 2018 rather than the 2.6% that had been expected. The forecast for 2019 was lowered to about 2% to 2.1% to reflect the apparent slowdown.

Consumer Consumption

Consumer spending has been increasing significantly year over year since 2014.

The best year of all was 2018, when spending rose 8.9% over the previous year, to $822.8 billion.

If that rate of spending sounds unlikely, considering the financial problems Spain's population has, consider this: The nation's tourism industry continues to be one of its greatest strengths. It was the second most visited nation in the world in 2018, with 82 million foreign visitors who spent an estimated $173 billion, according to the World Tourism Organization.

Government Debt

Spain's national debt remains at a frighteningly high level.

In the second quarter of 2019, government debt increased by about $11.5 billion to $1.32 trillion in total. That's about 98.9% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). In Europe, only Greece and Italy are worse off.

The country owes about $64 billion in interest payments alone each year.


More than 2.3 million Spanish nationals were living outside the country, according to 2016 figures. That was a nearly 57% increase over the number in 2009.

Many of the expats were well-educated and highly-skilled professionals who couldn't hope to work in their fields at home. Most headed for Latin America or other European Union countries in search of jobs.

In addition, a large number of immigrants "re-emigrated" elsewhere, finding no opportunities in Spain.

The country also experienced more deaths than births in that year.

In other words, Spain's population was declining.

Income Disparity

The social and economic hierarchy in Spain remains forbidding. It takes a low-income Spanish family four generations, or 120 years, to achieve the country's average income, according to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Better job prospects belong to those born into better-educated and more affluent families.

This lack of upward mobility actually worsened after the 2008 economic crisis. Blue-collar workers saw their incomes shrink as their hours were cut back.

Young People Bear the Burden

Younger workers have been perhaps the worst hit of any demographic by Spain's economic problems. The average salaries of young professionals were lower in 2019 than it had been for their counterparts a decade earlier. Young workers with lower skills had it worse: They earned about the same as their peers in the late 1990s.

According to the Bank of Spain, the average Spaniard has a net worth that is 13% lower than it would have been if the 2008 crisis had not occurred and the growth that began in the mid-1990s had continued.

Unemployment Rates

Spain's unemployment rate stood at 14.2% in September 2019. That is actually the lowest it has been since 2008. While it still compares unfavorably to the 7.5% rate in the Euro Zone as a whole in 2019, the jobless rate in Spain has been showing steady improvement since early 2013, when it hit a peak of just under 27%.

Still, young workers continued to struggle in 2019. About 32.8% of all Spanish workers ages 18 to 24 were unemployed as of September 2019, according to Eurostat.

As in any nation, the official statistics don't tell the whole story. Many young Spaniards are struggling to get by picking up cash-only jobs in the underground economy.