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Spain tops the European table for number of overqualified workers

Almost one out of three people in jobs that do not match education level

Spain is the European Union country with the greatest amount of overqualified workers, meaning those with a college degree or vocational training certificate who hold a job beneath their training level. While the average for the EU of 27 was 19 percent, that figure reached 31 percent in Spain, according to a Eurostat study using 2008 figures.

These numbers refer to the native-born population. For the foreign-born, the over-qualification rate jumped to 58 percent in Spain versus 34 percent for the 27 members of the EU as a whole. The study concludes that "when employed, foreign-born persons often have more difficulties in finding a job corresponding to their level of education." The highest gap between overqualified natives and overqualified foreigners was to be found in Belgium, with rates of five percent and 14 percent respectively.

Over-qualification has been a serious problem in Spain for years, as the schooling level of the general population - especially attendance at higher education centers - has risen much faster than the number of available jobs for highly qualified workers. In a country whose economy has rested mostly on construction and the services sector, notably tourism, the percentage of the Spanish population with higher studies grew from 21 percent to 30 percent in the space of a decade, between 1999 and 2009.

An earlier study using 2006 data already showed Spain as being one of the countries with the largest number of overqualified workers (38 percent) in Europe. That study, however, did not differentiate between native-born and foreign-born workers.

In any case, three long years of economic crisis have elapsed since those figures were collected and analyzed, and there have been dramatic changes in the Spanish unemployment rate, which shot up from 11 percent to over 20 percent (45 percent for young people). In 2009, José García-Montalvo, an economics professor at Pompeu Fabra University, predicted that over-qualification levels in Spain could rise even more in the midterm, since many people with few or no studies and out of a job might take that opportunity to get a higher degree, thus pushing up overall educational levels in the country. Recent enrollment figures seem to confirm that prediction, as registrations in mid-level vocational courses grew over 15 percent in the last two school years, while college admissions rose around 10 percent.

Meanwhile, there is nothing to suggest a similar rise in available jobs for highly qualified workers.

Over-qualification rates may have already varied greatly for foreign-born workers, since nine out of every 10 people who move out of the country are foreigners, according to Spain's National Statistics Institute. The over-qualification rate for foreign-born workers in Spain was 58 percent in 2008, only surpassed by Greece at 62 percent. In general, the gap between both groups is enormous across the 27 member states. Foreigners were also much more likely to fall into poverty (18 percent for natives and 32 percent for foreigners) or to live in crowded dwellings (three percent versus 12 percent), a reflection of a less favorable socioeconomic situation.