J. D. Heyes
Oct 2, 2012
Make no mistake – the economic situation in a number of European nations is deteriorating rapidly, so much so that basic survival has become an issue for more and more people.
Consider Spain, whose government will have to borrow €207 billion (about $334.6 billion) next year just to survive (widening the country’s debt to more than 90 percent of its annual gross domestic product – the sum of all its revenues), many people are turning to dumpsters and garbage to feed themselves.
“On a recent evening, a hip-looking young woman was sorting through a stack of crates outside a fruit and vegetable store here in the working-class neighborhood of Vallecas as it shut down for the night,” says The New York Times in a story last week. “At first glance, she looked as if she might be a store employee. But no. The young woman was looking through the day’s trash for her next meal.”
The woman had scored about 12 or so “aging potatoes” that she deemed good enough to eat and put them on a nearby luggage cart.
“When you don’t have enough money, this is what there is,” she said, declining to give her name to the paper but justifying her “dumpster diving.”
Anything to survive as more cuts coming
The 33-year-old woman said she once held a job at a post office but had been let go – her job downsized, no doubt, as the Spanish government wrestles with mounting debt no doubt worsened by increased joblessness in the private sector.
She was drawing unemployment, but that had since run out and she was now living on about €400 a month – about $520, as of this writing. She didn’t have a home, per se; “she was squatting with some friends in a building that still had water and electricity,” the paper said, while collecting “a little of everything” from the garbage after local stores and businesses had closed and the streets emptied.
Such is life in Spain today, where more and more people have been forced to turn to such tactics just to make it day-to-day. The unemployment rate is above 50 percent for young people, traditionally a country’s most valuable workforce asset, with the number of households containing jobless adults growing.
Scavenging has become so pervasive in one Spanish city that officials have taken to installing locks on trash bins outside supermarkets, to avoid a public health outbreak that the government could ill-afford.
A Catholic charity, Caritas, said in a report this year that it had fed nearly a million hungry Spaniards two years ago, in 2010 – more than twice the number it fed just three years earlier. Numbers rose again in 2011 by some 65,000, said the Times.
Now, with Spain desperately attempting to meet austere budget targets, the government has been forced into the same situation as another struggling European nation – Greece – with one cost-cutting measure after another. That has meant the elimination of government jobs and salaries, pensions and benefits, even as the economy continues to contract (sound familiar?).
For now, things are going from bad to worse
Recently, the government implemented higher taxes in an attempt to close the yawning budget gap, raising the VAT – value-added tax – three percentage points to 21 percent on most goods, while boosting it two percent on many food items. That has left many of those already on the edge that much closer to the fiscal cliff.
Little relief is in sight as regional governments (like U.S. states) around the country face budget woes of their own. They, too, are being forced to cut costs by eliminating once-free services like school lunches for low-income kids.
So, in the short to mid-term, dumpster diving is likely to continue to close the gap between survival and starvation for more and more Spaniards.
“It’s against the dignity of these people to have to look for food in this manner,” Eduardo Berloso, an official in Girona, the city that padlocked its supermarket trash bins, told the Times.
So much for European-style socialism.