Nearly two-thirds of young Greeks are currently jobless. The unemployment rate in the country has reached a record 27 percent. Experts are warning of dramatic consequences for Greek society.
Before Europe's debt crisis set in, young Greeks complained of poorly-paid jobs and described themselves as the "1,000-euro generation." Today, a situation like that would be paradise - currently more than 60 percent of young people have no jobs at all, and analysts and unions are warning of grave social consequences.
"A whole generation of well-educated young people feel like they've simply been set aside, especially because many of them are long-term unemployed," says Ilias Katsoulis, professor of sociology and political sciences at Athens University. He thinks that society could face serious problems. "In a crisis, our society needs these people especially," he says. "But society hardly offers them any opportunities to use their qualifications, and that makes the crisis worse."
It's a vicious circle, but Katsoulis, who has been analyzing the upheavals and reforms in the Greek job market for the past ten years, still sees some hope for the future. After all, he reasons, the Greeks currently leaving the country will all return at some point, and then they will bring their expertise and experience back with them.
Imported expertise or brain-drain?
International studies have shown that countries of origin profit just as much as do the countries to which the emigrants move, says Katsoulis. But many commentators in Greece disagree, lamenting the "brain-drain" of young Greeks to northern Europe, the US, or Arab countries. Economist and newspaper publisher Giorgos Kyrtsos, who himself studied in the US, is also concerned.
On Athens-based TV network Skai, Kyrtsos criticized politicians both inside and outside Greece for prescribing a drastic cure for the country's economy, and then completely ignoring its social consequences. It has led, he said, to the disappearance of the Greek middle classes. "That means we can no longer finance the aging of our society," he warned, pointing to the record levels of Greeks moving to Germany. "The 3.7 million people with an income are faced with three million pensioners - soon every single one of them will have to finance one pensioner. What if the much-vaunted recovery actually comes and there's no one left in Greece to profit from it?"
According to the experts, it's only the traditionally strong solidarity within Greek families that has prevented a social revolution so far, for it's still considered normal in Greece for older family members to support their children and grandchildren financially.
Tradition meets reality
But that generosity is now facing a grim reality, believes Athens-based economic journalist Babis Papadimitriou. The most recent job market data shows that registered unemployment in the 65+ age group has multiplied by a factor of ten in the past five years. That means that more and more Greeks of pensionable age are seeking paid work in order to contribute to their families.
"That so many people over 65 want to work testifies to a shift in mentality in Greek society," Papadimitriou told Skai radio. "I wouldn't say it is positive, but it shows how serious the situation is. There is a similar trend among women, who up until now have been devoted to their families. They are also showing increased interest in finding a job because otherwise they can't make ends meet."
Both the three-party government under conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and the European Commission are promising improvements and help to bring young Greeks back on to the job market. As a first step, the EU wants to make 450 million euros ($579 million) available to cities and local authorities in order to finance at least 100,000 short-term contracts for young unemployed people. But there is much skepticism as to whether this will succeed.
"A lot of young people are standing utterly helpless in front of the patronage system that still dominates Greek politics," says Katsoulis. Greeks are traditionally very reserved about state institutions, he argues, and the record unemployment rate in the past few years has only strengthened that.
"They have no chance of getting on and maybe getting a good job in the administration, unless they belong to a political party," he said. "They would like to trust the state institutions, but they know that it's all clientele politics." That, he added, was also the reason why many Greeks have vented their anger in recent weeks by giving their votes to extremist parties.