ATHENS – Austerity measures imposed by international lenders in return for bailouts to keep the country from defaulting are taking their toll on Greek workers, with 21 percent now out of work – and 51.5 percent of those under 25 unemployed, again setting records. Numbers from Greece’s statistics agency ELSTAT said the overall jobless rate is now twice that of the rest of the Eurozone of countries using the euro as a currency, and that there are more young without work than those who have a job. The unemployment rate for the young is twice as high as it was three years ago, before the economic crisis began, and Greece has surpassed Spain as the country with the most jobless young.
A record 1,033,507 people were without work in December, 41 percent more than in the same month last year. The number in work dropped to a record low of 3,899,319, down 7.9 percent year-on-year. Overall, the rate has risen by 40 percent over a year ago with signs that it will continue to climb amid a wave of company closures and private businesses now beginning to make deep cuts to the salaries of their workers.
Pay cuts for public workers, tax hikes, slashed pensions, and the coming firing of 150,000 workers in exchange for a first bailout of $152 billion from the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) Troika and a pending second rescue of $172 billion have led to the closing of more than 111,000 businesses, with many more expected. The second bailout also came with a requirement that Greece cut the minimum wage by 22 percent, and 32 percent for the young. Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who doubled income and property taxes and for the first time assessed a tax on the poor, said Greece’s young now could be forced to work for about $160 a week after taxes, equivalent to rates in the United States 50 years ago. Meanwhile, tax evaders costing the country more than $60 billion have so far largely gone unprosecuted, despite a recent crackdown which led to the arrest of more than 100 tax cheats.
The average unemployment rate for 2011 jumped to 17.3 percent from 12.5 percent in the previous year, according to the figures, which are not adjusted for seasonal factors. Greece’s economy is estimated to have shrunk by a about a fifth since 2008, when it plunged into its deepest and longest post-war recession. About 600,000 jobs, more than one in ten, have been destroyed in the process.
Things will get worse before they get better, according to analysts. “Despite some emergency government measures to boost employment in early 2012, it is hard to see how the upward unemployment trend can be stabilized in the first half of the year,” Nikos Magginas, an economist at National Bank of Greece, told the Associated Press. Most analysts believe it will get much worse and already more than 70 percent of young Greeks have said they want to leave their homeland to find jobs and a new life elsewhere, many saying they have gone past hope and are giving up.
Even college graduates will find themselves with the prospect of now having to work for the minimum wage, providing little incentive for them and contributing to the “brain drain” in which Greece is seeing many of its brightest and youngest leaving. Last July in Athens, at a debate entitled I Am Leaving Greece about many of Greece’s young fleeing, Grigoris Farmakis, Managing Consultant at the Greek information technology company Grigoris Farmakis, said the country’s young could use their skills elsewhere. “Every person who works outside our borders, or establishes a business there, or sets up a laboratory at a university is yet another small chance for yet another new method of cooperation,” Farmakis said. “A chance to cooperate with a business here, the chance to cooperate with a laboratory here, or the chance to promote an idea that would have been lost here.”
Apostolos Doxiadis, author of Logicomix, said there was a difference between leaving Greece young and those who did so a century ago in mass emigration to the United States, Australia and other countries. “Staying in 2011 is not the same as staying in 1920 or in 1950,” Doxiadis said. “To leave does not mean exile, that I go and do not turn back or that I listen to Kazantzidi and I cry.”