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Unemployment at end of 2020 28.2% higher than same time last year

Catalonia ends year on verge of 500,000 jobless, a figure not including 200,000 people in temporary layoffs


05 January 2021 11:32 AM


Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

Covid-19 has resulted in a disastrous year for the job market in Catalonia, with the sharpest increase in the registered unemployed workforce since 2009.

According to figures released on Tuesday by Spain's work ministry, unemployment grew by 28.2% from December 2019 to December 2020. The last time figures were higher than this was at the peak of the financial crisis, at 32.7% from the end of 2008 to the end of 2009.

As of December 2020, Catalonia had 497,611 people out of job, 12,863 more than in November.

Temporary layoffs

The roughly 500,000 jobless residents in Catalonia exclude the people in temporary layoffs (or ERTO, in Catalan) due to the pandemic, the latest restrictions and their impact, at 207,441, as Spain's government delegation in Catalonia made public on December 28.

In the spring, those in furlough peaked at 678,684, but in September 30, 78.4% of those in temporary layoffs had already returned to work.

The current figure surpassing 200,000 is 49,800 higher than in the end of the third quarter.

Spain's delegation also said that SEPE, the state's employment office, had paid €4.64 billion in social benefits in Catalonia from April (€3.01 billion more than in the same period of 2019), including €2.22 billion in temporary layoffs.

Delays in receiving benefits

Yet, the statement did not reveal the number of people with the right to an economic aid still waiting for their payment.

The major delays in temporary layoffs have raised much criticism throughout the pandemic. The Catalan News Agency learned in November that not only were the ERTO amounts delayed, but also that SEPE had not paid any unemployment benefits to those who reported having lost their jobs from August 12 in the Barcelona region – except for the few people who had managed to arrange an in-person appointment at SEPE.

The office was still dealing with the chaos that began in the first months of Covid-19, when around 70% of the requests were not put in the system in due time.


Spain also said on December 28 that from April since the end of September, 272,598 self-employed people had received some economic help in Catalonia, plus 66,228 more from October.

In autumn, the Catalan government launched two rounds of economic aid for self-employed workers, reaching 10,000 people in November and 116,000 in December.

The number of self-employed people residing in Catalonia is roughly 550,000, according to Idescat in November. 


  • Waiter working at a bar in Tarragona Catalonia on December 18, 2020 (photo by Eloi Tost)

  • Waiter working at a bar in Tarragona Catalonia on December 18, 2020 (photo by Eloi Tost)