RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Spain has lived through years of punishing budget cuts and austerity. This morning, its government unveiled a new economic plan which eased budget targets but acknowledged that recovery was still a long way off. Thousands took to the streets in Madrid overnight, protesting the country's past measures and tax hikes that have left many without jobs.
Lauren Frayer reports from Madrid.
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LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Spaniards surrounded their parliament with loud rallies overnight. Their anger about austerity has been fueled by new unemployment figures. Now more than 27 percent of Spaniards are out of work. They chanted slogans against the prime minister, political elites and European Union leaders in Brussels.
Lost in the crowd here, and a little bewildered, is Noe Beauvois, an exchange student from Brussels.
NOE BEAUVOIS: I don't feel any anger for me. But I think that there are like anger against the European Union and all the leaders who just want to impose a very hard condition of living.
FRAYER: Beauvois was sitting in class when police raided his university yesterday. They arrested students who'd allegedly been stockpiling Molotov cocktails for the latest protests. Quite an introduction to Spain, he says.
BEAUVOIS: The young people especially just don't know what to do. It's like they are stealing their dreams. I don't know how to say it.
FRAYER: It does feel hopeless. Fifty-seven percent of Spaniards under age 25 are unemployed and that doesn't include students. Many are moving abroad. Sandra Maldonado is off to Russia to find work as a foreign language editor.
SANDRA MALDONADO: My goal is to stay there and to work there because here it's true that there's no jobs.
FRAYER: Immigrants who came to Spain for a better life are picking up and leaving too. Macodo Pierre came to Madrid from Senegal in West Africa. Laid off from construction, he's selling bootleg DVDs on a street corner, trying to earn money for a ticket home.
MACODO PIERRE: (Foreign language spoken)
FRAYER: When I arrived in Spain six years ago, it was easy to find a job, even without working papers, he says. But now that I'm legal, the economy has turned bad and I can't find work.
Last year, Spain's population shrank for the first time. Economist Gayle Allard says this should all be a wake-up call for the eurozone's fourth largest economy.
GAYLE ALLARD: This is the call for a change in the austerity focus. You cannot, you cannot try to reduce deficits in a country with six million people out of work, half of whom have been out of work for more than a year.
FRAYER: Even the European Commission president in Brussels said this week that austerity has reached its limits. In his 18 months in office, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has implemented the deepest budget cuts in Spain's democratic history, and 1.3 million jobs have disappeared in that time. Now the government says it'll ease up, spreading budget cuts over the next two years and hiking income tax instead.
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FRAYER: That could bring some small relief to people like Maria Serret, a secretary on a smoke break outside her Madrid office. She devotes part of her paycheck every month to her elderly father's care and worries about getting by.
MARIA SERRET: (Foreign language spoken)
FRAYER: He has a pension but it's not enough, she says. He's in a wheelchair now, so we had to renovate his house and hire a nurse. I'll have to pay more from my salary if his pension is cut.
And her salary has been slashed in the past year too. But Maria shrugs and says at least she has a job. She considers herself one of the lucky ones.
For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.