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Spain's recovery: Can short-term, low-paid labor help?

By Al Goodman, CNN
updated 12:06 PM EST, Tue December 17, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN met Valentin Garcia in 2012, when he was unemployed, now he has a job
  • But the job is short term and at 50, he's only earning the minimum wage
  • This represents many jobs that are being created in Spain -- short-term and badly paid
  • Questions are being raised over how much these can help the country's long-term recovery

(CNN) -- The recent email in my in-box was simply titled "Trabajo," which in Spanish means "work" or "a job."

It was from Valentin Garcia - a jobless man we met in 2012 telling us, rather excitedly, that he'd gotten a job, at last. No small feat in Spain's economic crisis.

He'd been out of work for more than three years before getting hired as a tree trimmer on a city work crew.

We met Garcia, who's done all sorts of manual jobs, in June 2012 at a Red Cross food bank where he came to get a handout. He'd lost his job as a waiter two years earlier.

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There was a line at the Red Cross site in the Madrid suburb of Tres Cantos, and the down-on-their-luck Spaniards and immigrants waiting there didn't want to talk to CNN about their plight.

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Garcia also initially declined. He was concerned about how it would look on TV but eventually he told us that a TV interview might help him be seen by potential employers.

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We said we could only tell his story, but not guarantee he'd get a job. He agreed to talk.

"If there is just part-time work, fine, at any hour, any job, even if I have to learn it from scratch," Garcia told us then.

And then described the difficulties for a single man -- he was then 48 -- in Spain's crisis. His jobless benefits had run out, he had almost no savings, and he said he was really getting by thanks to help from his elderly mother.

In October 2012, we covered the Spanish Red Cross's annual fundraiser that dates back more than a century and whose proceeds usually go to help people in disaster zones abroad. But for the first time, the money was being used to ease suffering at home, in Spain.

We checked in with Garcia again. He still had no job, and was not very optimistic.

Then came the joyous email about his new job. We went to update our story on him and found out there's some good news and some bad news.

Yes, he's working, but only for six months. At 50, he's learning all about tree trimming, earning minimum wage -- about $900 a month.

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"It's a bit boring," Garcia said during a break. "But it's what there is. Since they've given you an opportunity, at least you're busy."

The Spanish government says the nation has been busy trying to get out of the economic crisis, and Spain's unemployment rate is finally starting to decline, although it's still 26% with 5.9 million people jobless.

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Unions, citing government figures that the Ministry of Labor confirms, say about 1.2 million jobs are being created in Spain each month, but that most of them are part time and temporary. And a third of them last less than four hours a day.

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Garcia works five hours. He'd like to get more work but thinks his chances are slim because, he says, most companies aren't hiring older workers. He says he's too old to learn languages and move abroad, as many college-educated Spaniards, and even some without a degree, are doing, in search of work.

'Politics going down a blind alley'

The mayor of Tres Cantos, the prosperous suburb that employs Garcia, is from Spain's ruling conservative party, which has been touting the economic recovery -- including the temporary jobs.

"No, they're not the solution to Spain's problem of more than five million people unemployed," said Mayor Jesus Moreno. "But they're important so the long-term jobless can get training.

Watch more: Making Spain more business friendly

Garcia, sitting on a bench and eating a sandwich, told us, "I'd like to change places with the politicians for a month or two so they could see what it's like to suffer in the economic crisis."

But his most immediate concern is paying the bills when this job ends in April. He says he'll have to ask his elderly mother for help, again.

We may need to check in again in the future with Valentin Garcia.

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