Degrees in hand but no jobs and few prospects, many of Greece's young say they'll reluctantly abandon their near-bankrupt country and look for work and a new life in other countries. Others are just resigned.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 24/10/11
Angelo Kotzampas [Andy Dabilis/SETimes]
Like nearly half of Greeks under the age of 25, Angelo Kotzampas, a recent college graduate, is unemployed.
Kotzampas, 22, who received his degree from a technical school in radiology, recently strolled through riot-damaged Syntagma Square in the centre of Athens, and said he is resigning himself to the idea he may stay jobless.
"I'm looking for work," he said, not with an air of desperation, but matter-of-factly.
He doesn't display the kind of outrage demonstrated in the same spot by scores of thousands of "Indignant", who gathered each night all summer to blow whistles, shout and shine lasers on the parliament building across the street -- angry at pay cuts and big tax hikes.
The austerity measures have largely failed, creating a deep recession of 16% unemployment and more than 40% -- officially -- for young Greeks, although Kotzampas and his friends believe the number is higher. Most of them are without work and losing hope faster than Greece is bleeding red ink.
"I sent my bios to all the hospitals -- Athens, Thessaloniki, Patra, Serres," Kotzampas told SETimes, ticking off the few big cities in the country where he thought he'd have some luck. He didn't.
"I have no offers, no answers," he said, adding that that fact may drive him out of the country.
George Kollios [Andy Dabilis/SETimes]
George Kollios, 25, sighed the same refrain, even though he said he's lucky that he works for his family's long-established jewelry store -- filled with luxury items that many Greeks now avoid buying.
"Everyone who produces something is in trouble … everyone is angry. I want to throw rocks," he told SETimes, although he said he would not, unlike the many thousands who demonstrated and rioted this summer.
While Kollios has a job, he said he knows many young Greeks who don't. "I think I speak for everyone, for young Greeks who have no hope, no perspective. Everyone under 30 wants to leave."
And that's the problem for Greece -- the vanishing young, an estimated 70% who've said in polls they want to migrate to other countries -- the US, England, Canada, Germany, Australia -- in search of a better life. It's the same pattern that their great-grandfathers undertook a century ago, fleeing poverty-stricken lives in Greece in search of a more promised land.
In recent decades, as Greece flourished in the EU -- an economic illusion that has evaporated -- few of its young wanted to live or work elsewhere, but many said they now have no future. They rail against a political patronage system that they said stifles entrepreneurs and young workers with ideas.
Many Greek youth acknowledge they have lost hope in prospects at home. [Reuters]
Nearby, outside the University of Athens, 23-year-old Amalia Ziakos walks with her friend, ignoring junkies shooting up in broad daylight against the walls of the ancient school, while a dozen or so illegal immigrants sell counterfeit goods on sheets spread on the sidewalk.
This violates the EU intellectual property law and undermines small shop owners who've complained about the practice, saying it is hurting their sales as much as the reluctance of Greeks to spend now.
"We hope something will change, but we don't think it will," Ziakos tells SETimes. "I have no hope. If we've come to this point when things are this bad, we're done."
With an estimated 30,000 civil servants being put into a labour reserve pool at 60% pay and likely to be fired in a year -- with another 90,000 to follow over the next three years -- Greece's young feel trapped by a system that prefers the middle-aged worker, yet now is shedding even those jobs. That leaves few prospects for those under 30, and worse for those under 25.
Now a demand from the EU-IMF-ECB Troika that the country scrap the minimum wage that guarantees a 700 euro monthly net pay has left many of the young bereft and seeing no way out except leaving the country. They call themselves the "700 Euro Generation".
Their hopelessness is creating worry that the country will experience a brain drain of its best and brightest young.
Lois Lambrianidis, an economist and geographer at the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki, told The Australian that 9% of young Greek graduates emigrated between May 2009 and February 2010. "And in recent months, the departures are accelerating," he said, noting that Greece's population of 11 million includes about one million immigrants while the diaspora has seven million – and counting.