In Greece, breadwinners struggle to make ends meet
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For Effie Panoutsakopoulou, it’s been another bad day at the office. Little wonder: she works in a bank in Athens, and her branch has been besieged with customers clamoring to empty their accounts and even their safe-deposit boxes.
“Today I had to open a deposit box for a lady. But I couldn’t turn the key. The lock was stuck. I tried three or four times,” Panoutsakopoulou says. “And the lady started screaming because she thought we didn’t want to open the safety deposit box for her. Everybody’s very stressed.”
Including Panoutsakopoulou. Her husband lost his job as an architect three years ago, and today they and their two young sons depend totally on her pay of $300 a week. Effie is worried that if the bank run continues, the banking system will collapse and her job will disappear.
With unemployment at 25 percent, millions of Greek households have been reduced to one precarious breadwinner. Christos Mavrou, a 35-year-old sales manager, ekes out a living on $270 a week for his extended family.
“My brother has no job, so I must support him, and his wife is pregnant, so their needs are higher now,” Mavrou says. “I’ve been helping a friend financially too. And, of course, I must support my parents.”
Which means picking up a $6,000 medical bill for his mother after her insurance failed to cover the aftercare for an operation. Mavrou is left with almost nothing to spend on himself, but he insists that he does not feel put upon.
“No, not at all,” he says. “It is my duty and my pleasure to help and support my family.”
Panoutsakopoulou admits that it hasn’t always been a pleasure being the sole breadwinner in her household. Her unemployed husband was paralyzed by depression for more than two years.
“He was feeling useless. Because he thinks that, as the male of the family, he has to bring in the food. He was very, very depressed.”
This put the marriage under severe strain.
“I had to take care of him. I had to take care of the two boys as well. And I had to work at the bank. I was very, very tired of my husband being depressed, so that caused us a lot of fights,” admits Panoutsakopoulou.
After counselling — paid for by her bank — Panoutsakopoulou restored her own mental equilibrium, and she says the marriage is on the mend.
Mavrou says the crisis strengthened his family and that he feels appreciated by his relatives.
“They don’t tell me they’re grateful,” he says. “They show it to me with their eyes. I can see gratitude in their eyes.”
Amid their country’s national humiliation, the breadwinners, at least, can feel some personal pride.
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