Youth inequality in Amadora

21 Feb 2022

Inequalities in relation to youth in Amadora: main challenges, trends and policies.

Short description of Amadora

The FUA of Amadora has been defined as corresponding broadly to the municipality of Amadora. While it is situated only 10 kilometres to the North-West of the capital city of Lisbon, the city of Amadora has a long history as a pole of attraction for people and businesses by itself. It is an area characterised mainly by housing and services, although some industrial factories remain present today. It is the most densely populated municipality in the country, one of the most diverse in terms of ethnicity and quite heterogeneous with regard to economic resources and quality of life.

Main challenges, trends and policies (max. 150 words each area)

Housing

Housing affordability is an issue in Portugal and especially in Amadora. Here, the overall rise of housing costs adds to structural problems such as the persistence of informal agglomerations and of degraded rehousing quarters. Urban youth is particularly disadvantaged as regards housing deprivation and Amadora ranks 5th among the Portuguese municipalities with the highest share of families in a situation of housing need. Young people face huge challenges to secure adequate housing, especially in the lower income brackets and one of the most common solutions is to stay at their parents or other relatives’ homes, even when they have a partner and children. Recently launched national strategies acknowledge the impact of social inequalities on the access to housing and the extreme vulnerability of young persons. Currently guided by the Municipal Strategy for Urban Rehabilitation, Amadora has chiefly attempted to increase the availability of services to families and to renew the image of the municipality.

Employment

As in the country as a whole, the unemployment rate of young persons in Amadora rose dramatically in the post-2008 crisis and decreased in the subsequent years of economic recovery. Young persons suffered a disproportionate penalty during the crisis and did not benefit from the opportunities of the recovery period as much as the working population at large. Young people are also particularly exposed to precarious work in its various forms. From 2008 until 2015, austerity measures were adopted as a response to the crisis. This included reforms of labour law and social policy, a reduction of unemployment benefits and restrictions to collective bargaining, accompanied with public schemes to support hiring, entrepreneurship and internships. From 2015 until early 2020, policies to recover income and employment were adopted. Unemployment and job creation indicators registered positive developments, although job quality and working conditions did not improve significantly. A third period, since early 2020, has been shaped by the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which precarious workers, many of whom are young people, were specially affected.

Education

During the economic and financial crisis an administrative reorganisation was implemented, postulating that public institutions at the national level should focus on controlling targets and results while schools were ascribed a greater responsibility and autonomy to enhance their students’ performance and active community participation. Non-standard tracks in primary and secondary education expanded since 2008, especially in the form of vocational courses. Increasing attention has been paid to equity and inclusion since 2015, as demonstrated by the adoption of various additional measures to prevent school failure and dropout. Substantial improvements have been observed in all indicators of education over the last decades. Both at the national level and the level of Amadora, there was an improvement in the performance of students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. However, there is still limited intergenerational social mobility: the school makes only a small contribution to counter the reproduction of inequality from parents to children. Gender and ethnic segmentations are also relevant.

Social protection

Portugal as a whole and Amadora in particular register high poverty, high income inequality, and limited redistribution, with informal networks of aid and third-sector institutions trying to compensate for the deficit of mechanisms to ensure people’s well-being. In consonance with the trend identified at national level, social protection in Amadora has been increasingly ensured and debated by local actors. There has been a transfer of responsibilities from the national state to local public and private organisations following a network governance logic that can generate new and better responses of proximity to citizens. However, doubts remain as to whether it corresponds to a truly effective approach rather than a remedy measure to compensate for structural incapacities of the welfare state.

Discussion and main conclusions

  • Amadora reflects the debilities that characterise Portugal in a rapidly globalising economy, in particular low wages, labour-intensive production and high income inequality. At the micro-level, characteristics such as gender and ethnicity bear a significant influence on the experiences of inequalities, due to either structural disadvantages or active discrimination.
  • The severe impacts of the financial and economic crisis between 2008 and 2015 fell disproportionately on young persons and aggravated their disadvantage, especially in the areas of employment and housing. The austerity policy response to the crisis, inspired by the neoliberal goal of labour cost reduction, did not protect young persons, much to the contrary. Even in the subsequent recovery years, young persons in Amadora did not see their situation improve as much as that of the overall population.
  • In the context of regional disparities, the position of Amadora in the Metropolitan Area of Lisbon is beneficial for its vicinity to a wide variety of work and educational opportunities, but it also entails pressures for housing price rises and residential segregation.
  • The welfare regime in Portugal has contracted since the early 2000s. This trend accelerated during the crisis that erupted in 2008. Breaking with a previous period in which a variety of policies and programmes had been introduced to tackle inequalities, public intervention between 2009 and 2014 was limited to remedy measures with little if any capacity to mitigate unemployment and poverty. In addition, the decreasing social protection coverage reduced the ability of the welfare system to address the vulnerabilities of young persons.
  • The economic recovery since 2015 and the adoption of new policies by the government to improve the situation of young persons, especially in the areas of education and housing, produced positive results, but these have been insufficient in the face of great difficulties to secure a job with decent wages and live independently from the family of origin.
  • Considering policies and programmes introduced in the period of 2008-2020, a contradiction is apparent. Most of these policies and programmes originated from initiatives at the national level – legislation, national strategy, public investment or other –, suggesting that the central state, the government and the parliament are the strongest actors. However, local actors – especially the municipality and NGOs – have been ascribed a growing role with regard to implementation, and even design in some cases, in a clear trend toward decentralisation as a way to either optimise resources or better respond to local needs, or both.
  • The local welfare system benefited from a growing room of manoeuvre since 2008. In the four areas under study, considerable responsibilities have been transferred from the national level to the local level, based on a consensual understanding that organisations working closer to the target-groups are in a more adequate position to identify their problems and needs, as well as to create and monitor solutions. However, this trend has not been accompanied to the same extent by the allocation of adequate resources, such as legal powers, financial means and qualified staff.
  • There is a limited ability of local actors to counter broader dynamics of inequality. For instance, there is little potential of policy measures to provide or support housing in a deregulated housing market with strong pressures toward price speculation and gentrification. Vicious circles of segregation are an outcome of this combination of elements, standing out as both a cause and a consequence of inequality reproduction.
  • The municipality and its smaller administrative units collaborate with local public partners (such as schools, employment and social security services) and civil society organisations (mostly NGOs) in a variety of projects and networks, suggesting a fruitful practice of communication and cooperation. Still, difficulties with regard to the articulation of efforts and the impact assessment of policies have been reported. This is partially explained by the scarcity of resources to support policy decentralisation, considering that time and skills seem to lack in many of the local organisations.
  • Vulnerable youngsters in the FUA of Amadora enjoy some formal freedoms, especially those related with broader socio-economic developments and constitutional rights, but they lack others due to structural inequalities that are reproduced across generations. They also lack conversion factors required to turn formal freedoms into real freedoms, and local policies have precisely attempted to tackle this problem, with more positive results in education than in any of the other three areas under study.