Spaniards struggle to get by in weak economy

Ivan is one of many Spaniards who are desperate enough to look through the garbage to get food.
Ivan is one of many Spaniards who are desperate enough to look through the garbage to get food.
CBS News

(CBS News) BARCELONA - The U.S. recovery is painfully slow and one of the biggest reasons is the recession in Europe.

The 27 countries of the European Union add up to the world's largest economy, but they're reporting record unemployment. In Spain, unemployment among young people is 50 percent.

Spain can be a deceptive place. In the early autumn sunshine, and in the markets groaning with foodstuffs, it's difficult to tell this is a country with a collapsing economy and an unemployment rate of 25 percent that threatens to take the rest of Europe and maybe even the United States economy down with it.

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But wait until they close up at Barcelona's Boqueria market and follow the porters out back to where they dump the trash, and you get a different impression.

In Spain these days, one person's garbage is another's sustenance. Just because you can't sell it doesn't mean you can't eat it. At closing time, the shadows around here hide the desperate and the hungry.

And when darkness falls, they come out. They joke and call it recycling.

Ivan and his friends are regulars here. For them there's no such thing as a sell-by date.

"Here I can find fresh juice and some vegetables," Ivan said, adding that normal people -- not just homeless -- come to pick up the food.

There's a new kind of normal in Spain. Once it was considered shameful to have to take food from one of Barcelona's food banks. These trucks used to deliver donated food relief mostly to immigrants who'd fallen on hard times. Not anymore.

Laia Ginjoan, who helps run one of those centers, said well over a million people in Spain now depend on food banks -- twice as many as before the crisis -- and they are a new type of clientele.

"What's shocking for us, that never happened before, are all these people that are from here," Ginjoan said.

She said the Spaniards who come to the center have full family's that are unemployed.

To make matters worse, the summer tourism season is now winding down -- normally a time of more layoffs. All the projections are for Spain's problems to get worse.

There's already been a bailout for Spain's banks, which have been staggering under bad debts. Now the country is under growing pressure to ask the rest of the European Union for a general bail out. And Spain, compared to other countries, is a big country with a large -- if shrinking -- economy. The amounts of money involved would be enormous.

(Watch: Christine Lagarde speaks with Scott Pelley on how long it will take Europe to recover.)

  • Mark Phillips, CBS News London correspondent
    Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent based in London.