Having trouble wrapping your head around southern Europe's staggering unemployment problem?
Look no further than a single Ikea furniture store on Spain's Mediterranean coast.
The company wasn't prepared for what came next.
Within 48 hours, more than 20,000 people had applied online for those 400 jobs. The volume crashed Ikea's computer servers in Spain.
"We had an avalanche of applicants!" Ikea spokesman Rodrigo Sanchez told NPR in a phone interview. "With that quantity, our servers just didn't have the capacity. They collapsed. After 48 hours, we had to temporarily close the job application process. We're working on a solution, to reopen the job page as soon as possible."
That initial volume alone gives applicants a 1-in-50 chance of landing the job — three times more difficult than getting into Harvard last year.
And that's factoring in only the applicants in the first 48 hours, who managed to apply online before Ikea's servers crashed. Once Ikea gets its servers back up and running, the job application window will still stay open until Dec. 31, allowing potentially tens of thousands more job seekers to file applications, Sanchez said.
"I feel lucky to have a job. Ikea is a great company. In this case we have 20,000 initial people who want to work with us," he said. "But we know we're in this situation at least in part because of the state of the Spanish economy."
Spain's unemployment rate is 26 percent; it's more than double that among people in their 20s. Greece, Italy and Portugal also suffer from painfully high unemployment — and economists predict they will continue to do so even after they emerge from recession.
The Spanish economy posted 0.1 percent growth in the third quarter of this year, marking the official halt of recession. Exports are up, and Parliament has passed critical labor reforms.
Spain's jobless rate actually dropped 1 percent this year. But that's little consolation for those Ikea job seekers. It could be years before their odds improve.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
We all know that Europe has been hard-hit by the economic crisis. But a stark reminder came this week in Spain, where a quarter of the workforce is unemployed. When furniture seller IKEA announced it was hiring workers for a new store, it got an overwhelming response.
Lauren Frayer reports from Madrid.
(SOUNDBITE OF IKEA CHRISTMAS AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: This Christmas ad for IKEA on Spanish TV touts the jobs as much as the furniture.
On Monday, IKEA started accepting applications for 400 jobs at a new store near Valencia. Company spokesman Rodrigo Sanchez says IKEA wasn't prepared for what came next.
RODRIGO SANCHEZ: (Through Translator) We opened the application process Monday with the intention of keeping it open through December 31st. But we got so many applications in the first 48 hours that it crashed our servers.
FRAYER: More than 20,000 applications for 400 jobs. So many Spaniards are out of work, there are one-in-50 odds to get jobs at IKEA, including some that pay just minimum wage.
The IKEA spokesman says they expect even more applications once their servers are back up.
SANCHEZ: (Through Translator) We know we're in this situation right now, partly because of the economic situation in the country.
FRAYER: Twenty-six percent unemployment, and double that for youth. But Spain's economy is technically out of recession. Exports are up. The jobless rate has dropped by one percent. That's little consolation for the IKEA applicants. It could be years before their odds improve.
For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.