The Pandemic Repopulates Rural Spain

A little over a year ago, José Antonio Álvarez did not consider leaving Madrid. After six and a half years living in the capital, this 33-year-old from Jaén worked at a hotel reception and served drinks on weekends. In his mind he had studied an opposition for years, but he had not found the moment until the pandemic began .

“The first months, I was living practically on savings, until the ERTE started to work and, since everything is in the air, just at the beginning of the year I said: ‘I’m coming to town and saving ‘”, declares José Antonio , already from his town, Torre del Campo, where he arrived two weeks ago.

“With the ERTE money, I can’t afford to live in the center of Madrid and I couldn’t enjoy the city because of all the restrictions,” he adds.

Jose Antonio Alvarez
José Antonio returned to his town of Jaén to save and prepare for the oppositions after entering two ERTE in Madrid.He returned to his town of Jaén to save and prepare for the oppositions after entering two ERTE in Madrid.ASSIGNED

“With the ERTE money I couldn’t afford to live in the center of Madrid”
Although there is still more data to confirm the trend, during the last year, many young people have chosen to leave the large Spanish cities , destined for a rural environment that had suffered a constant population loss for decades .

During the first half of last year, the two autonomous communities with the most negative migratory balance were Madrid and Catalonia, according to INE data. Within the Community of Madrid, 9,000 people have moved to live in the towns from the capital, according to data from the Commissioner of the Government of the Community of Madrid for the Revitalization of Rural Municipalities.

Archive image of Escorihuela, Teruel. Peoples unite to resist during the quarantine: “We functioned as one big family”.

“To talk about a repopulation phenomenon, we must wait to analyze the data from the registers and the new 2021 census and see if the trend consolidates,” says Fátima Gómez Sota, associate professor of Sociology at the European University.

“The increase in unemployment and the economic crisis are pushing some people to seek new forms of entrepreneurship in rural areas,” says Gómez Sota, who also identifies other profiles such as “those people with the possibility of teleworking, or those who longed for a return to their jobs. towns where they have a family home. ”

Laura Bridge
He moved from Madrid to a small town in Soria taking advantage of the possibility of teleworking.He moved from Madrid to a small town in Soria taking advantage of the possibility of teleworking.ASSIGNED
“In town, you don’t feel like, during the week, you’re just working”.

Laura Puente responds to this last profile, a 32-year-old from Madrid who this summer decided to move to her family’s town, Miño de San Esteban, a village in Soria with 40 registered people.

“In Madrid you are used to having one hour going and one hour back to work, if you add to that the split day, you take a long time”, declares this architect who works in a consulting firm. “In the town, as soon as you finish work, you can go out and clear yourself of everything , not have the feeling that from Monday to Friday you only work.”

The new telework regulation, approved by the Council of Ministers on September 22 and agreed with employers and unions, comes into force this Tuesday, twenty days after its publication in the Official State Gazette (BOE). It is the Royal Decree-Law 28/2020 on remote work, with the rules that will govern teleworking in Spain and whose implementation has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, since until now it did not have a specific regulation.

Teleworking is concentrated in Madrid and Catalonia: from one third to almost half of the country’s teleworkers
In his case, teleworking opened the doors to his old dream of living in the town where he normally only went on vacation. During the summer, the City Council set up a room for teleworking where about twenty people came to gather. With the harsh winter of Soria, life became more complicated.

“In the town there would be about 20 people. It was getting up to light the stove and be aware of the firewood, but because the houses are not enabled to stay all year,” declares Laura, who, in any case, would like to stay fixed in the town if teleworking lasted .

Cities have been an especially hostile environment during the pandemic. Small dwellings with no open space to breathe during confinement, crowded public transport, and tough restrictions still in place have led many to flee to nearby towns and second homes.

However, for most, the decision has been essentially economic . Cities like Madrid or Barcelona have had exorbitant rental prices for years that the pandemic has stabilized, but has barely reduced.

Anggy Zapata
He moved four months ago from Barcelona to Olot, Girona, for “essentially economic” reasons.He moved four months ago from Barcelona to Olot, Girona, for financial reasons.ASSIGNED

“I pay half the rent in Barcelona and I have a job here”
“I left mostly because of the financial issue,” admits Anggy Zapata, a 32-year-old Colombian who had lived in Barcelona for four years and, last fall, packed her bags to go to Olot, Girona.

“In Barcelona I worked in a cosmetics store in a shopping center, but we went to the ERTE and had a very low base salary, we were earning about 400 euros,” says Anggy, who has already found work in her new town and, moreover, He has come out winning with the rental price: “Olot is much cheaper than Barcelona. I pay half the rent. If you pay for the apartment there at 1000 euros, here you pay at 500” .

Will this trend last over time, bringing some life back to rural Spain? “In the long term, it will depend on how the health situation evolves and, mainly, on the policies that are put in place by the Government and municipalities,” declares Professor Gómez Sota. “If not, this phenomenon will only become temporary and young people will return to the cities or emigrate outside of Spain again, as it happened after the economic crisis of 2008.”

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