The economy of Spain, the European Union's fourth largest after Germany, France and Italy, emitted an ominous groan Thursday, reporting a stunningly large unemployment rate of 27 percent for the first quarter of the year.
More than 6 million Spaniards in a population of 47 million are unemployed, some of them for years. In terms of the health of Spain's own economy and in the context of the EU's and eurozone's general financial woes, prospects for early improvement are not good. Spain is considered to have been in economic trouble for five years now. Given its magnitude and adding it to the EU's list of already troubled economies, including Greece, Greek Cyprus, Ireland and Portugal, with Italy wobbling without a government and Slovakia flashing warning signs, the union finds itself pushed even lower in the water.
Spain's government has continued to pursue a relentless austerity program, even as employment has dipped and popular despair has mounted. The country's continuing woes are beginning to call into question the long-term wisdom of austerity as a national policy in the face of recession. Another mindless form of such policy is America's own sequestration, which is making air travel in the United States a more painful, and possibly less safe, experience than it was already, post 9/11.
So far there's been no speculation that Spain's government might resign or call elections. It won the vote in 2011 and, led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, has three more years to run before it has to go back to the voters. The attention of Spaniards to the employment crisis is distracted only by a corruption investigation implicating King Juan Carlos' daughter Cristina with her husband in possible tax fraud. The king, now 75, has been in power since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. Spain's democratic institutions are still slightly shaky.
Europe's troubles, now expanding to include a gravely ill Spain, have to be of concern to the United States, given America's close political, military and economic relationships with its nations. Unemployment at 27 percent is not to be ignored.