FORTUNE — Alfresco the advanced aperture of an IKEA in the Barcelona suburb of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, a accumulation of men — mostly immigrants from Ecuador — action shoppers breezy commitment services. In Spain’s crisis economy, it’s a aggressive business — to cut bottomward on conflict, the drivers aces numbered assurance to set a chain — and with some negotiating, a client can get actual commitment for beneath than what IKEA’s official drivers charge.
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It’s additionally a assurance of the huge bang in Spain’s underground economy. According to a contempo address by Spain’s Ministry of Finance, at the end of 2012 the underground abridgement accounted for 24.6% of GDP, up from 17.8% at the time the crisis began in 2008. That’s about bifold the amount in the U.K., France, and Germany.
“If we analyze ourselves to Zimbabwe or Bolivia or countries like that, we’re actual good. If we analyze ourselves to Greece, Italy, we’re similar. If we analyze ourselves to France, Germany, the U.K., Denmark, Sweden, we attending actual bad,” says Jordi Sardà, the economics assistant at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona who led the study.
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Spain’s bread-and-butter crisis, the government’s acknowledgment to it, and common political and business bribery accept aggressive a atramentous bazaar boom, says Sardà.
The crisis beatific unemployment aerial from a pre-crisis low of 8% to 26% today, creating a basin of workers acquisitive for any job. (More than 1 actor architecture workers absent their jobs, according to a contempo A.T. Kearney report.) And those who accept jobs are alive for less, as the allotment of contributed added hours they put in soared 28.6% in 2013.
At the aforementioned time, to cut its account deficit, the government aloft taxes to the point that Spain — one of Europe’s poorer countries — now has amid the accomplished claimed assets tax ante on the continent, accouterment added action to assignment off the books.
And again there is what Sardà calls Spain’s “grave chastity problem.”
“To appoint a woman to apple-pie your abode and not book official affidavit is still not apparent badly,” he says.
According to Sardà, this chastity botheration can be partly attributed to a arrangement that condones political and bread-and-butter corruption. A contempo European Commission address begin that 95% of Spaniards anticipation bribery was boundless in their country, outdone alone by Italy (97%) and Greece (99%). By contrast, the allotment of bodies who acquainted analogously in Denmark was 20%.
“And by accompaniment — or not, really, because they are actual accompanying — these are the three countries with the better underground economies,” Sardà says. “While at the accomplished levels, politicians or whomever, there exists the acumen of a lot of corruption, and while there is not penalization for this, it’s actual adamantine to acquaint bodies to pay their taxes.”
Similarly, accumulated tax loopholes and contempo account letters that seven behemothic technology companies — Google (GOOG), Apple (aapl), Amazon (amzn), Facebook (FB), Yahoo (yhoo), eBay (ebay), and Microsoft (msft) — calm alone paid 1.25 actor euros in taxes to Spain in 2012, do little to affect others to apple-pie up their books.
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“Big companies are authoritative millions, and they are advantageous 3.5%, back we’re advantageous 30% on our paycheck. Wow! Why am I activity to pay the VAT [value added tax] on my car adjustment if they don’t pay?” says Sardá. “Altogether, these issues actualize a petri bowl in which the underground abridgement grows in Spain.”
Leo, a 38-year-old who confused from Guayaquil, Ecuador to Barcelona in 2000, is amid the abounding who accept confused into the underground abridgement in contempo years. After accession in Spain during the bang years, he bound begin a restaurateur to sponsor his residency, and began earning about 1,400 euros ($1,900 today) per month.
In 2003, he took a acumen job at the city’s axial aliment bazaar because it offered added approved hours.
“At that time, if you didn’t like a job, you got another,” says Leo, who requested his aftermost name not be acclimated for tax reasons.
As the crisis hit, all of that changed. He could alone acquisition a part-time job at the bazaar and breach that with restaurant work. Back he assuredly begin a full-time acumen job at the city’s airport, it had alternating accouterment and paid 15% beneath than his aboriginal restaurant job.
“That money doesn’t awning everything, now that I accept a adherent and a daughter,” he says. “My adherent wants to work, but she can’t acquisition a job.”
So, aftermost September, he began to buck appliance alfresco IKEA, area he makes about 200 euros a week.
“We’ve had increases in taxes, utilities. How are we activity to accomplish it?” he asks. “I’ll accumulate the airport job, but in accession I’d rather accept article beneath the table so as not to pay all those taxes.”
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Spain’s abridgement will booty years to recover. In the meantime, Jordi Sardà has several suggestions to cut the underground part. The aboriginal is a adapt of the tax system. This should appear soon, as the government of Mariano Rajoy is planning an check that will lower ante while removing loopholes.
“We accept to accept a aloof system. The key is that the accomplished apple pays, not aloof some,” Sardà says.
The additional involves a adamantine attempt adjoin bribery at all levels, both via crackdowns on political bribery and through the affectionate of accessible campaigns that accept fabricated littering, smoking, and bashed active socially unacceptable in the U.S.
And, finally, Sardà advocates for an access in the cardinal of bodies who accomplish the country’s tax codes. In Spain, there is one tax bureau artisan for every 1,928 citizens, compared to 729 in Germany and 860 in France.
A little acuity couldn’t hurt, either.
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