Young Greeks struggle with lack of work


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    A rare moment of jolity in Athens. Passers-by put their bags down and sprang into dance as street musicians begin to play traditional Balkan music.

     

    - Stephen Beard/Marketplace

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    In spite of the slogan, an air of resignation hangs over young people in Athens. Youth unemployment hovers above 40 percent.

    - Stephen Beard/Marketplace

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    This local theatre is perhaps a lesson in lost confidence that has impacted Greece.

     

    - Stephen Beard/Marketplace

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    One of the lesser known impacts of high youth unemployment in Greece is that less and less people are getting married in the country, because they can't afford it.

    - Stephen Beard/Marketplace

KAI RYSSDAL: We're taking a look this week at the problems of Europe's Jobless Generation. About 14.5 million people under the age of 30 can't find work. And that's causing ripple effects all across the continent, on families, social services and government budgets. And how young people think about their own futures. Our European Correspondent Stephen Beard kicks off our series today in Greece, where more than 55 percent of young people are unemployed.

STEPHEN BEARD: In the center of Athens: An unexpected burst of joy. A group of street musicians strikes up and strikes a chord. Passing shoppers drop their bags, link arms and dance. But the joyful outburst is short-lived. The music ends. The dancing stops . And the shoppers drift away. Drifting across Syntagma Square is the sound of another less upbeat busker. The lugubrious tune far more in keeping with the national mood. This is a country where two-thirds of the young people are unemployed. People like Vassilis Korobialis.

VASSILIS KOROBIALIS: "When you don't have work, you feel like you are completely useless , you feel like you don't have meaning in your life."

BEARD: 28-year-old Vassilis has a degree in industrial design. He's been more or less unemployed for 3 years. His spirits did lift last year when he worked - unpaid - for an online magazine.

KOROBIALIS: "For me that last year it was like I was…successful."

BEARD: Like hundreds of thousands of unemployed Greeks in their late twenties or early 30s, Vassilis lives at home and is still totally dependent on his parents. The same for 28 year old Panos Paklos. Armed with a degree in Information Technology he also can't find a job…or the independence he craves.

PANOS PAKLOS: "When I was 20, 21, I thought I would by now at least have somewhere to live on my own, be able to support myself and maybe support a family. But now, it's quite the opposite."

BEARD: You can't?

PAKLOS: "No I cannot. I'm not quite fond of myself right now."

BEARD: Self loathing and listlessness . For the unemployed, these are an "occupational hazard". No sign of such pessimism at this start-up company in central Athens. This place is crackling with energy. Computer software firm INTALE was set up in the teeth of the crisis with a starting capital of $70. Sales doubled last year. It now employs 13 people. Co-founder Fanis Koutouvelis - also 28 - is not totally sympathetic to the unemployed.

FANIS KOUTOUVELIS: "You cannot just stand there crying that you don't have a job that everything is hopeless, you have to make your own job."

BEARD: Fanis claims that too many young Greeks seek the comfort and security of employment - especially in the bloated public sector. He feels Greece will only recover ….with a new breed of enterpreneurs.

KOUTOUVELIS: "I believe it's the only way out . We have to find, educate, those people who will want to create their own job and create jobs for a dozen, fifty or one hundred other people."

BEARD: It is beginning to happen. Figures are hard to come by. But start-ups have apparently more than doubled over the past two years in Greece. And there are would-be entrepreneurs waiting in the wings. At this school in eastern Athens, 17 year old Michael Taliakis and a classmate have written a very promising software package. Michael plans to start an engineering company when he graduates from university. He's undaunted by Greece's record level of youth unemployment.

MICHAEL TALIAKIS: "If you're fearful or you have the attitude: I will never find a job. Maybe you will never find a job . You need to have the attitude of a winner.

BEARD: Do you think you have the attitude of a winner?

TALIAKIS: "I don't know if I have it but I'm trying to have it."

BEARD: But when you're 17, self confidence is easy. You're still unbruised by Greece's grueling job market. Thousands and thousands of highly qualified Greeks in their 20s and 30s don't have entrepreneurial skills . And they face a stark choice: stay home frustrated and dependent or ….. emigrate. In Athens I'm Stephen Beard for Marketplace. 

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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