During the research for a forthcoming book, I started to think about the impacts of our prolonged stagnation on the job market. Interestingly, in spite of low job creation, until recently unemployment never rose to really high levels. Therefore, I was left to wonder what could cause such a phenomenon. The answer was relatively obvious: emigration. We all know that Europe exhibits a low degree of job mobility, but we also know that, historically, Portugal has been a country of heavy emigration. Thus, I decided to check the emigration figures to see what was going on. Unfortunately, after the introduction of the European Single Market, many European countries stopped collecting data on immigration for European workers. Similarly, Portugal used to have a "passport for emigrants", which allowed us to collect data on migratory flows, but that too was abolished in the early 1990s.
The solution to get the emigration data was to use a combination of labor market surveys, registers of national insurance numbers, the OECD immigration dataset, as well as the immigration figures for the countries that still collect them.
The results of this research truly surprised me. Between 1998 and 2008, around 700,000 Portuguese decided to leave the country in search of better opportunities elsewhere. The figures are still lower than in the 1960s and early 1970s, but not by much. And the trend is accelerating: in 2007 and 2008, more than 100,000 Portuguese decided to emigrate.
We don't know how much of this emigration is temporary or permanent, but, obviously, even if it is temporary, migratory flows can easily become permanent. No consolation there, even if we assumed that emigration is mostly temporary (which I doubt).
One thing is certain. The prolonged economic stagnation is starting to have a major impact on the lives of tens of thousands of workers, who are increasingly opting to find jobs elsewhere, rather than waiting for an illusive economic recovery. Alas, this trend is likely to persist if the Portuguese economy continues to be stagnated in the next few years.