European Debt Crisis

Young Greeks worry over spending cuts

Marketplace Staff May 13, 2010
European Debt Crisis

Young Greeks worry over spending cuts

Marketplace Staff May 13, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: The CEO of Deutsche Bank said today he’s not at all sure Greece is going to be able to pay back what it owes. He does have logic on his side. Despite deep spending cuts, Greece still does have a long way to go to make its investors whole. A third of all the jobs in that country are in the public sector. There’s widespread tax evasion and rioting in the streets. It’s a difficult situation to be in, not least for young Greeks. The unemployment rate for people between 18-30 is more than 25 percent.

From Athens, Joanna Kakissis reports.

Joanna Kakissis: On a Sunday night in central Athens, Alex Yokaris stands in a small crowd of mourners outside the charred remains of the Marfin Egnatia bank. Three bank employees died recently when a fringe group protesting Greek government spending cuts set fire to the building. The victims were in their thirties. They’d done what many young Greeks can only dream of: securing a stable, respectable job.

Alex, who’s 31, can’t get a job, though he speaks several languages and has three master’s degrees in chemistry.

ALEX YOKARIS: I think the situation here is tragic. There’s no hope, no jobs, no nothing. No future.

So, for the moment, he’ll go on living with his mother in a small apartment in a leafy Athenian suburb. According to the Hellenic Statistical Service, Greeks between the ages of 18 and 30 on average make less than $13,000 a year.

Manos Matsaganis, a professor of Economics and Business at Athens University, says many of these young people are well-educated and, like Alex, won’t settle for blue-collar jobs.

MANOS MATSAGANIS: Many people believe that such jobs are beneath them, basically. And they prefer to take another option, which is stay at home, stay with their parents, take another degree, then take a third degree.

This idleness has crushed creativity, Matsaganis says. Young people used to wait for a perfect, cushy job in the public sector to come along. Now, those jobs are disappearing, so many young Greeks take to the streets of Athens instead and chant for the overthrow of the government.

Thirty-year-old Yiannis Bournous wears snazzy shades and a black tee shirt that says, “I Still Hate Margaret Thatcher”. He watches sympathetically as a group of angry young demonstrators pushes by. Yiannis says he’s very lucky to have an office job that is pretty easy and pays more than $1,000 a month.

YIANNIS BOURNOUS: Unfortunately, the general situation concerning people of my age is not only bad, not only difficult, but it’s constantly and very rapidly deteriorating.

Eighteen-year-old Nota Gounta stands outside parliament under a hand-painted sign that reads: “Don’t Kill Our Future.” She’s just started law school in Athens and expects the austerity cuts will mean years of recession for Greece.

NOTA GOUNTA: It speaks volumes that I’m this young and this disappointed, she says.

Prime Minister George Papandreou says he wants to rebuild a Greek economy that’s competitive, green and open to creative young people. But analysts agree it will be years before Greece recovers from this crisis and even longer before it reinvents itself.

As Alex Yokaris washes dishes at home, he stresses about the four hours of daily study that lie ahead.

YOKARIS: And if you don’t do sufficiently well then you have to take extra courses.

He won’t be waiting around in Greece for the upturn to come. In August, he’s leaving to pursue a doctorate in organic chemistry at the University of Illinois in Chicago. He won’t languish in a menial job in Athens.

YOKARIS: If I hadn’t studied chemistry, I would, but a person with my qualifications, I’m hoping for something better.

Like a job as researcher or a professor. Not an over-educated dishwasher.

In Athens, I’m Joanna Kakissis for Marketplace.

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