Tough market: 20,000 applicants for only 400 jobs — at Ikea

People walk alongside an IKEA outlet in Prague, February 25, 2013. REUTERS/Petr Josek

Like many countries around the world, Spain has been hit hard by recessionary conditions in recent years, and its unemployment rate currently stands above 25 percent, more than three times that of the United States.

That means when job opportunties come up in the European nation, people who want positions scramble to secure them. But what happened this week at an Ikea store near Valencia should make clear how serious the situation is there. According to an NPR report, the Swedish seller of home furnishings began taking applications on Monday for a new location that's set to open next year. While 400 jobs are going to be filled, so many people applied that Ikea's servers, unable to handle the volume, crashed. In just two days, about 20,000 job seekers had made a bid for the openings. That's 50 applicants per job opening.

Ikea spokesman Rodrigo Sanchez explained to NPR that the company's servers weren't prepared. "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," he said.

What's more, when the application portal's functionality is fully restored, Ikea plans to keep taking submissions until Dec. 31, the report says. In other words, those 1-in-50 odds might get even longer. The Wall Street Journal reported last year that sales at Ikea, known for its giant blue and yellow stores selling boxed furniture that customers assemble at home, exceeded $30 billion in fiscal year 2011.

Spain's economy has started to show a bit of reason for optimism after being one of Europe's main trouble spots the past few years, although, as this Bloomberg report points out, the International Monetary Fund believes unemployment in the country could remain above 25 percent for five more years.

A similar hiring phenomenon has occurred in the U.S., and recently. When Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, was preparing to open two Washington, D.C., stores, it received 23,000 applications for about 600 associate positions. That crush of applicants to the stores in the nation's capital comes amid an ongoing debate about low-wage jobs in America — those paying the federal minimum rate of $7.25 an hour or a little above that amount. While labor supporters have been advocating for better pay in retail, notably the fast-food industry, opponents have said increased compensation would bring a new set of problems, such as price increases for consumers or some jobs being eliminated altogether in favor of automation.

The U.S. unemployment rate is now 7 percent, the latest report released Friday morning by the Labor Department says. The calculation is based on the number of Americans who are actively seeking employment but failing to find a job; it does not include those who aren't searching.

Jobs in the retail sector historically tend to attract large numbers of people with a high school diploma or less, and those groups have a higher unemployment rate than the national average. As a result, when a big store like Wal-Mart opens, it will likely get more applicants than it can hire, even if the jobs are lower-paying.