Unemployment in Spain drops historically in September

by Lorraine Williamson
September employment figures

MADRID – Spain ended September with 76,113 fewer unemployed than in August; the largest drop in history for this month. September is the seventh consecutive month in which unemployment fell, something not seen since 2000.

The total number of people registered as job seekers in the offices of the Public Employment Service (SEPE) was 3,257,802. This is 178,091 more than were registered in the same month of 2019. The difference with February 2020, the reference month before the crisis, is now only 11 755 jobseekers. 

Trend change 

The decline recorded in September is slightly smaller than that of August (82,582 fewer unemployed than in July). However, there is a break with the traditional trend for this month. Unemployment usually rises as a lot of seasonal work stops and many temporary contracts in the tourism sector expire. Before the pandemic, unemployment in September had not fallen since 2007, when there were 10,933 fewer jobseekers. 

Number of social security contribution payers higher than ever 

Monday also saw the publication of the social security enrolment figures for September. Furthermore, this shows an increase of 57,387 more enrolments on average than in August. With this increase in the number of contributors, Social Security reaches a total of 19,559,689 employed persons, seasonally adjusted. This represents an improvement on the pre-February 2020 figure. Moreover, there are more people in work now than before the pandemic. And this is the highest figure since these data were published.  


The number of people on ERTE has fallen to 239,230 workers, the lowest number since the arrival of the coronavirus. The number of workers on ERTE is in stark contrast to the figures in the worst months of the pandemic. At that time, 3.6 million workers were enrolled. However, one in three ERTEs currently in force is for part-time workers.  

Once again, travel agencies, with 121,900 workers with an ERTE (31% of affiliates in this category), are the sector with the most workers with an ERTE on file. Air transport (14.6%), gambling (12.1%) and housing (10.5%) follow.  

Secretaries of State optimistic 

The Secretary of State for Employment and Social Economy, Joaquín Pérez Rey, was positive about the unemployment figures. He described them as ‘spectacular’. Pérez pointed out that September is a ‘historically bad’ month in terms of unemployment figures, but nevertheless stressed that ‘Spain is almost back to pre-pandemic levels in record time’. For the Secretary of State, these are “definitely positive figures that confirm the government’s approach to the crisis”. 

The Secretary of State for Social Security and Pensions, Israel Arroyo, stressed that the number of registrations is “increasing more strongly than expected”, although the hospitality and trade sectors remain well below 2019 levels and there is “a wide margin for recovery”.  

Unions and employers’ organisation 

The Spanish trade unions – CC OO and UGT – gave the data a positive assessment, albeit with some nuances. The CC OO pointed out that these figures ‘also highlight the serious problem of the large number of temporary workers’ and insisted that an agreement on recruitment should be reached at the social dialogue table. The UGT believes that the figures show ‘a consolidation of the improvement in activity’ and urged the government to withdraw the 2012 labour reform so that the recovery is ‘based on a foundation of social justice’.  

The employers’ organisation CEOE stressed that the data ‘underline the great efforts made by companies and workers to return to normal’, but called for ‘caution’ in the measures to overcome the crisis.  

Recovery for industry, agriculture and construction  

Unemployment fell in all sectors in September, with agriculture (-8% and 13,067 fewer unemployed), construction (-4.5% and 12,309 fewer unemployed) and industry (-2.45% and 6,668 fewer unemployed) already back at pre-crisis levels. The service sector (-1.7% and 39,312) has also improved, but is still below the level before the corona crisis. 

Regional differences 

At regional level, unemployment fell in twelve autonomous communities – all except Melilla, the Balearic Islands, Cantabria, Galicia, Asturias and Andalusia – and particularly sharply in the Canary Islands, where the fall was greatest in both relative (8%) and absolute terms (20,699 fewer unemployed). Catalonia (12,658 less unemployed), Madrid (10,261) and the Valencian Community (7,355) also did well. Andalusia, where unemployment rose by 4,416, was the region with the worst figures.  

More job contracts, more young people looking for work 

Moreover, 1,923,846 new labour contracts were signed in Spain in September (half a million more than in August), of which 216,688 were for an indefinite period (11.3% of the total), and 88.1% were temporary. 

Finally, and in contrast to the general trend, unemployment among young people under 25 rose by 5,838 jobseekers, a figure that contrasts with the 17,120 reduction recorded in August. This group has, however, returned to its pre-pandemic unemployment level: there are currently 10,319 fewer young people registered with SEPE offices than at the start of the pandemic. 

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