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Spain has Europe's highest unemployment rate - about 25 percent. And for people in their 20s, it's double that. Every weekday morning, lines snake around the block at unemployment offices across Spain, where jobseekers go to register for benefits or training courses. Reporter Lauren Frayer went to one such office in her own Madrid barrio to talk with the unemployed about how they're coping nearly three years into Europe's debt crisis.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: The crowd of jobseekers at this unemployment office in downtown Madrid looks different than it did a few years ago. Back when the housing market went bust, it was construction workers who flooded into this lobby. Now, labor reforms have made it easier for corporations to fire workers without seniority. So, the latest wave has been white collar, youth unemployment. People like Jaime Garcia de Sola, who studied economics and then got an internship at an investment bank. It had just turned into a full-time job.

JAIME GARCIA DE SOLA: Actually it was everything OK, but there was not too many things going on, so finally they had to fire someone. I was like the new one, so it was me.

FRAYER: At 30, Garcia was really looking forward to moving out of his parents' house.

GARCIA DE SOLA: I was about to, and then I got fired. I had found like perfect apartment, with some friends and everything, and then - I guess I'm lucky that I didn't get into the contract and stuff, 'cause that would have been hard today to pay and everything.

FRAYER: Unemployment has also come at a particularly inconvenient time for the person just behind him in line, 30-year-old Vicky Fernandez.

VICKY FERNANDEZ: I'm going to get married 16th of June. You know, it's going to be quite hard being without work after the wedding.

FRAYER: Fernandez racked up advanced degrees in hopes she would never find herself here in the unemployment line.

FERNANDEZ: I have a diplomatura and I have two masters, and I have two languages: French and English and Spanish, of course. And I have a lot of problems to find work. It's not easy for young people.

FRAYER: Many of those here are well-educated 30-somethings - the demographic Spain's economy relies on to do things like buy houses or start families. But those things get put on hold in this economy, Fernandez says.

FERNANDEZ: I'm quite frightened, because also I want to be a mother. So, it's quite difficult right now because you don't have enough money to get your life to the end of the month. So, you can imagine with the children?

FRAYER: Garcia and Fernandez are both frustrated that financial autonomy seems beyond reach. But here in Spain, young people do tend to live with their parents longer - with or without an economic crisis. And that's one of the traditions that allows Spain to survive with 50 percent unemployment among youth, says economist Gonzalo Garland, at Madrid's IE Business School.

GONZALO GARLAND: They stay with the parents, and if one of the parents works, then they will be able to survive, and therefore the impact of unemployment is not as strong as it would be in another society. Sometimes it's even grandparents with their pensions who are supporting other families where none have employment. So, there's this family network, let's say, that also tends to alleviate to some extent the impact of very high unemployment.

FRAYER: The problem is when those well-educated 20-somethings become 30-somethings and 40-somethings and still can't find steady, meaningful work. And that's what's happening now. Garland says that paradoxically, Spanish laws that aim to protect jobs are at least partly to blame.

GARLAND: Because firing is so difficult and the cost is so high, there's also a resistance to hire. Therefore, what happens is you have a lot more long-term unemployed in Western Europe, than what you have in the U.S.

FRAYER: Back at the unemployment office, Garcia eyes construction workers digging up the road out front, and he wonders whether going to college and getting internships was the right path after all. He's thinking of going abroad now. And I ask him how he's feeling.

GARCIA DE SOLA: Afraid, I think. Yeah, 'cause I don't know what's going to happen, I don't know what can I do.

FRAYER: For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.

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