People born abroad have constituted a large population group ever since Spain became a host country in the mid-1990s. At an overall level, influxes of migrants helped to increase and rejuvenate the population, improved its state of health, raised production and balanced public finances. In social terms, these new residents are a collective which, even though it is mixed, often faces the same problems following their arrival in Spain. Education, employment, housing and access to basic services such as healthcare are all essential areas for guaranteeing their social inclusion, as are recognition and participation.
This section details a series of indicators that are useful for evaluating the degree to which immigrants’ main social needs are met in comparison with the native-born population. For the purposes of this analysis, any person living in a household whose person of reference was born outside Spain is regarded as an immigrant except in the case of the indicators used in the Active Population Survey,* in which the interviewee’s own place of birth is taken into account.
1. Financial wellbeing and the labour market
Families headed by an immigrant are at 2.5 times greater risk of poverty than those born in Spain, a disparity that grew during the economic crisis. The figure for 2014, based on 2013 income, was the least favourable for the immigrant population: at that time, almost one in two people were living in households with an income less than that established as sufficient to avoid the risk of poverty. The imbalance in the poverty risk is corroborated, and even exacerbated, if we examine the more extreme poverty indicators, such as those based on level of consumption or material deprivation (not included in the table).
Employment plays a key part for immigrant families, not just because of the possibility of thereby obtaining income with which to sustain themselves and also of sending remittances back to their countries of origin, but also because the renewal of the permits required to remain in the country are dependent on it in the early stages of people’s migratory projects. Prior to the economic crisis, 3% of the population (around 1 million people, including immigrants and the native-born population) lived in households in which every member was unemployed. In 2013, in contrast, this figure verged on 11% of the population (around 5 million people). The fall in employment from 2009 onwards affected every family, but particularly immigrant families, among whom 16% did not have a single member in work during the central years of the recession. This opened a gap that has still not yet fully closed after years in which employment rates have improved. In fact, even though the indicators have improved for immigrants, if we compare their evolution with that of the native-born population, we can see how the divide between them has grown significantly.
Insecure jobs are a major problem in the Spanish labour market, however it does not affect all workers equally. Immigrant families depend to a greater extent on jobs that are temporary and hence more insecure and unstable: in 2006, the proportion of immigrants in families in which every contract was temporary was almost three times that of the native-born population. With the economic crisis, the values fell, as many temporary contracts ended with people becoming unemployed, and the divide reduced somewhat but did not disappear.
As well as being more precarious, the jobs taken on by immigrants are in many instances worse paid, plus the employment conditions – working hours, shifts and opportunities for promotion – are also worse. Catering, intensive agriculture, domestic work and personal services such as looking after dependent people are some of the sectors that immigrant labour tend to be employed in given the difficulty of filling these jobs with Spanish workers. A consequence of this concentration in these sectors and in less attractive jobs are the high rates of in-work poverty that are found: over a third of immigrant workers live in families with a disposable income that does not exceed the poverty threshold despite their jobs. This situation worsened during the economic crisis. This problem also exists among the native-born population, but to a lesser degree and it has not varied much over time. It is important to curb in-work poverty, among other reasons because it is particularly connected with unequal opportunities for children and child poverty, which in Spain is high in the European context.
Finding a decent home is one of the greatest obstacles faced by families that decide to settle in our country. The property bubble that developed in Spain during the period with the greatest influx of migrants (the ten boom years prior to the economic crisis) did not make things easy for households of modest means, many of which went deep into debt in order to be able to acquire a flat or had to spend a significant proportion of their pay on the rent. Whichever year we look at, the cost of housing was an excessive burden for more than half of immigrants, as it took up more than 30% of their income. Among the native-born population, this figure was three times lower.
In this context, it is not surprising that in the harshest years of the economic crisis, up to 25% of the immigrant population paid the occasional monthly rent or mortgage payment late, a situation that never affected more than 5% of other families. These late payments are significant because they reveal extreme financial difficulty (housing is almost always the last spending item that to go unpaid when income falls) and can be a prelude to the eviction processes that leave people homeless.
One way for people to bring down the cost of their housing is to opt for smaller homes, often excessively so in relation to the people who will be living in it. Overcrowding problems, measured in accordance with the standard established by Eurostat, are rare among native-born families (between 3% and 5% depending on the year), but they affect a significant part of the population of foreign origin (between 13% and 20%). The lack of space in the home can have a negative impact on everyday life, affecting aspects such as comfort, privacy and the availability of spaces suitable for eating, studying or resting.
3. Health and lifestyle habits
With regard to health, Spain opted for a model in which health cards that allow access to the system are granted based on de facto residence (registration with the local council) regardless of the person’s legal status. After the period in which this right was rescinded in response to the implementation (which was stricter in some regions than others) of the cuts introduced by Royal Decree 16/2012, the health system’s universal coverage was restored by Royal Decree 7/2018. Even so, public healthcare only partially covers areas such as dental care, and copayments are demanded in others, such as acquiring medication. Even though the accessibility of the health system is good in Spain, including for immigrants, the economic crisis led to an increase in the percentage of people who were unable to afford certain health-related costs. In the case of dental treatment, the inaccessibility percentages doubled in just a few years, rising to around 14% among immigrants in 2014, twice the figure found among the native-born population. Between 2014 and 2017, there was a significant improvement in both groups, but the gap remains.
Access to education has also been guided by the principle of universality, meaning that no child has been deprived of their legal right to an education regardless of their parents’ situation vis-à-vis the authorities. This is important, but even so it does not in itself guarantee equal educational opportunities, since their socioeconomic background and their status as immigrants can affect children’s access to post-compulsory education and training and their academic results. The 2018 figures on young adults aged 18 to 24 who drop out of education early and on the inadequate level of education among adults aged 25 to 64 are twice as high among people of foreign origin as they are among people born in Spain. Moreover, even though these two indicators have improved since 2006, the reduction is much higher among the native-born population, widening the educational gap connected with origin. Given the importance of education and training to employability, it is worrying that almost a third of young immigrants leave the education system once they have completed their compulsory schooling.
THE TWO-FOLD SALARY GAP FOR IMMIGRANT WOMEN
In 2016, foreign women workers earned on average just over €14,000 (gross) a year, compared to the almost €27,000 earned by Spanish males. The figures in the Pay Structure Survey clearly illustrate this two-fold divide, of gender and of origin, that determines the paltry earnings of immigrant women employed in our country. A range of factors explain this situation, among them the concentration of women, especially immigrant women, in poorly paid sectors, occupations and jobs, their greater tendency to be employed in part-time work, the importance of the informal economy, interruptions to their careers to look after household members, and the direct and indirect discrimination they suffer due to their sex and/or nationality.
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