Thursday, September 28, 2017

Young Greeks: Well-educated, but barely making it by

By: Lindsey Curnutte
Produced & edited by: David Lee

Twenty-four-year-old Sofoklis Magkanaras feels lucky to be working a minimum-wage job in Kalava, Greece.

“Believe it or not, I consider myself lucky to even be paid this, because most of my friends are unemployed or paid worse than me,” Magkanaras said.

The Greek economy has been facing a historic debt crisis since 2009. Photo by SigmLive.

Greece's Lost Generation

Magkanaras graduated from the University of Thrace with dreams of becoming a teacher, but he says the chances of him doing so are near impossible because of job scarcity for Greek teachers.

“For a Greek teacher like myself, the only options we have is either getting to the public sector –  which is quite impossible because there are almost 120,000 teachers waiting to be placed to schools all over the country, or teaching to private schools –  where they pay you almost 2.5 euros per hour. So it isn’t worth it.”

Until 1997, Greek teaching candidates were guaranteed a job, but some waited 15 years for placement, according to a report from the European Network of Teacher Education Policies.

Since then, the Ministry of Education in Greece has been working to reform the system of teacher placement. But with recent layoffs and public employment freezes, the wait for teaching jobs could end up being just as long as in the 1990s.

Gabriel Croft Georgiadis, also of Kavala, thinks he will be waiting 10 years at least on the waiting list for a teaching job.

“Unfortunately the system is so blocked and my number in line is like 15,000 or something,” Georgia said. “The system is blocked because too many enter universities and end up as jobless teachers.”

In 2011, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reported that the recruitment of new teachers in Greece is likely to be no more than 900 a year.

“[There is a] growing number of teachers awaiting appointment, 4,500 are already on the ‘list,’” the report reads. “Recent actions to freeze all public employment could further reduce the number of appointments to permanent teacher positions to replace those who retiring.”

Instead of teaching, Magkanaras works as a sub-manager for a supermarket where he is paid minimum wage.

The minimum wage for Greeks under the age of 24 like Magkanaras is 510 euro per month, according to The Federation of International Employers.

“The biggest problem are not the salaries themselves, but the cost of living,” Magkanaras said. “Basic stuff like food, electricity, water, gasoline are like three or four times more expensive than they used to be six years ago.”

Magkanaras is one of the many disillusioned young Greeks who are a part of, what some call, Greece’s lost generation.

“I think what we are seeing in Greece is a lost generation,” Kevin Featherstone, a professor at the London School of Economics, told the LA Times. “There's a despondency about their own future and their place within Europe that a previous generation never had.”

The European Union (EU) reported 44 percent of Greek youth, people between the ages of 15 and 24, were unemployed in July 2017. The youth unemployment rate peaked at 58.3 percent in 2013 and has hovered around 50 percent since, according to Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU.

Overqualified to be Unemployed

“We wake up every single day with frustration and depression thinking about all the simple things we want to do and simply can't,” said Josephine Lazaridou, a 25-year-old medical lab technician, who makes about 420 euro a month in Kalava, Greece.

Lazaridou, like many of her friends, lives with her parents, and calls herself lucky because she has something that many of her friends do not: a job that pays her enough to live modestly.

“A lot of my friends cannot even contribute economically to their houses with their parents because some of them are still unemployed,” Lazaridou said. “Everyone is really struggling to keep up and I think that we feel that we are tired of this situation.”

Lazaridou, like many Greeks, young and old, is frustrated with Greece’s crippling economy.

“The Greek government cannot change this situation,” Lazaridou said. “Youth has no power, no opportunities, no future. This is what all of my friends think, we have to abandon our country for a better life.”

Many young Greeks have done just that. In 2016, the Bank of Greece found that 427,000 Greeks, mostly the young and educated, have emigrated since 2008. Dubbed the “brain drain,” this migration of college-educated Greeks has driven many to blame the Greek government.

“We are people and an entire generation is getting lost because of shitty actions [by the government],” Magkanaras said. “So as we say here in Greece, all of [the politicians] are only puppets, and only banks have control of this country.”

Greek students protesting educational reforms. Photo by RT.

Unlike other government officials, Deputy Education Minister Kostas Zouraris sympathized with students, telling Greece’s SKAI TV that they have little choice but to search abroad for a better future.

“For now, it’s understandable that kids are saying they want to leave,” Zouraris told SKAI. “Let’s hope they return because we are, as you know, bankrupt and a debt colony.”

Both Magkanaras and Lazaridou agree with Zouraris’s comments, which are deemed controversial by Greek media.

“I know that maybe you find it difficult to believe but I think he is right,” Larazidou said. “All of my friends have at least one university degree, we speak English and most of us know one more language. When we go abroad, the other European countries give you the feeling that you can achieve a job development during the years.”

Larazidou said she is pessimistic about her future in Greece, as are many others. 51 percent of Greeks surveyed by Pollster MRB believe their country’s financial situation may never get better.

“I almost feel like I have no future here, and I really wanted to make a career someday, but eventually I have to give up like others, because you cannot invest money to a bad economy and have things going your way,” Larazidou said.

“I just keep going and going, and maybe after two or three more years I will leave too.” 

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