Never has the term been so aptly employed. I saw this the other day outside one of Spain’s employment offices, known as INEM here. Fortunately, I wasn’t there as a client, so to speak, English teachers have remained relatively unscathed by one of the worst economic recessions in history, but rather to accompany a friend who was arranging to receive his first unemployment benefit. It’s a perversely cruel word that is, “benefit”, as if it were a kind of perk you get for being on the dole. There is little to nothing beneficial about it.
In any event, you are no longer able to just show up at the INEM and get a ticket to stand in line. Now you must make an appointment online. They zap back a very exact time, like 12:47, and then tack on the symbols +/- afterward to indicate, “more or less”. That’s what I like: approximate precision.
On the way in, I saw this little bit of publicity stamped on the surface of the sidewalk. In English, it reads, “Men’s Haircuts, free if you are unemployed”.
Was this generosity, solidarity, cynicism, politics, opportunism?
Chances are, it’s genuine. There’s a phone number and everything. Other hairdressers and barbers around Spain, from Tarragona and Lugo to Ibiza have offered the same over the years to help out those who are living on very limited budgets. That’s called the benefit of kindness.
Meanwhile, as the number of unemployed descended 310,400 in the second term this year and Spain is the fastest growing employment nation in the EU, the official rate remains stubbornly at 24.47%, the second highest in the union. Believe it or not, things do appear to be improving; which is maybe why that sign is beginning to look a little faded.