Where’s Zorba when you need him? There’s good news and bad news for the Greek lifestyle, according to the Better Life Index compiled by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD.)
The good news is that they live longer on average than those in the other 26 countries surveyed in the European Union, and against others around the world. The bad news is they are lonelier, sadder, work more and get paid less.
The country’s crushing economic crisis has created a record 26.9 percent unemployment rate with 1.3 million people out of work and many taking big pay cuts to go along with tax hikes and slashed pensions, while the politicians and rich remain unaffected and, using the survey’s criteria, live longer, happier, richer lives.
The poll puts Greece near the bottom in lifestyle because of unemployment, languishing health care, education, environment and other statistics which show a declining quality of life for many, with austerity measures imposed by the government on the demand of international lenders putting 20 percent into poverty and hundreds of thousands of people without health insurance in a country with a socialist health care system that is supposed to provide universal care.
There was a contradiction in health care with the OECD ranking Greece with 8 points out of 10 for a system that supposedly is more inclusive although it didn’t seem to take note of all the people without health insurance who have to line up at social clinics while Greece’s health care insurer EOPYY is allowing politicians and the privileged to travel abroad for expensive care.
While Zorba could spit death in the eye, Greeks today are succumbing to psychological pressures. The happiness index gave Greece a reading of just 1.3 points out of 10 based on the interviews conducted by OECD researchers. Greeks also feel helpless and lonely, with 81 percent responding that they have someone to reach out to for help in times of need.
The average annual income in Greece amounts to 15,726 euros, against an average of 17,728 euros in OECD countries. Employment in Greece covers only 56 percent of people from 15-64, against an average of 66 percent. Greeks work 2,032 hours per year, against 1,776 hours in the OECD, putting pressure on another qualitative index, the balance between work and a personal life.
In one of the ultimate ironies, Greece has one of the highest rate of university degree holders – and one of the highest rate of unemployed university degree holders, which has sent many of them fleeing to other countries for work and a better life. While a college education in many countries leads to good jobs, in Greece there is virtually no benefit because jobs are controlled by political parties who decide who’s going to get appointed with no regard for merit.
There could be fewer in college in coming years though as big cuts in education and poor infrastructure, with many schools looking like dilapidated WWII Army barracks and almost no amenities, along with coming firings of teachers is coming at a time when the scores of Greek pupils has fallen to a combined 473 points, far off the OECD average of 497 points with students in other countries now surpassing Greeks, although Greece did score better than Britain, France and Spain for some inexplicable reason.
For all that, Greeks live longer with an average expectancy of 80, even if they have to do it in a more polluted environment than most other countries, with air pollution of 31 micrograms per cubic meter compared to 20 for the survey.
Greece is the polar opposite of the United States, which used as a basis for comparison had far better grades in income and other areas. For its labor system, Greece’s grades are akin to those in Mexico and Estonia; in social relationships the vaunted Greek lifestyle fell flat on its face with Greeks coming fourth from the bottom.
With the quality of life sliding, Greeks have been protesting, striking and rioting for three years against austerity measures, demanding no changes in the way they used to live with wild overspending and no cutbacks and continued benefits, which international lenders said had reached a day of reckoning.