By Craig Wherlock*
To look at the cafes full of young people sipping four euro coffees it would be easy to imagine that young Greeks have little to trouble them apart from the normal cares of exams, relationships and entertainment choices, however, the reality of the situation is that the current generation of young people in Greece is in crisis, fearful of the future, apprehensive about how they are going to make a living in a country which has an official youth unemployment rate double the European average.
Forget Generation X or Y, this is Generation 700, the name young Greeks have given themselves since even those who manage to find employment rarely get more than 700 euros a month. In cities such as Athens and Thessaloniki where rents start at 300 euros and prices of basic goods and services have risen dramatically, young Greek have little choice but to live with their parents till they get married.
Despite growth rates of 4% the Greek workers have seen their spending power decline rapidly since the introduction of the Euro in 2001. Stagnant wages combined with price rises of 100 to 200% have hit those on low incomes in particular. Nor have years of strong economic growth done much to bring down the country's unemployment rate, the second highest in the EU. In contrast a recent survey carried out by the Greek Consumer Protection centre (KEPKA) found that Greece has the highest cost of living in Europe with everyday products costing 66% more than those in Germany and Holland.
Andreas, 22, counts himself lucky. He has a job as a chef which pays 750 Euros a month for a job in which he has to work up to 10 hours a day. Even rarer, he has an employer that pays the statutory national insurance benefits. However,like so many others in Thessaloniki he worked, uninsured, for 500 Euros a month in the recent past. Similarly, Many his age he wonder what the future will bring and are pessimistic about their chances of ever having a pension. They sees little cause for hope in the present situation, resigned to the fact that whatever party gets into power little will change for young Greeks.
Even those with university degrees, masters and knowledge of two or more foreign languages struggle to find work in a job market where stable, western style career jobs are the exception, rather than the rule. Indeed the country has the highest graduate unemployment rate of all 27 EU countries Traditionally, such people would often apply for coveted placed in the civil service which pay better and have greater job security, however, cuts in public services along with the use of short time contracts by both the present conservative, New Democracy administration and the previous left-wing PASOK government have seen such opportunities curtailed. Those public sector jobs which do exist are usually only obtainable for those who have, "meson", suitable family or party connections.
Despite government indifference to the problem on the policy level, Generation 700 is still a sensitive issue politically for the present New Democracy administration as journalist, Stelios Kouloglou found to his cost recently. Kouloglou who hosts Reportage Xoris Synora (Reporting Without Borders) - the Greek equivalent of the BBC's Panorama or CBS's 60 Minutes was promptly fired after 13 years working for the Greek state broadcast company and the programme axed from the state run NET channel after his documentary on Generation 700 was aired.
*Craig Wherlock is a photographer and EFL/ESL teacher living in Thessaloniki,northern Greece.He is also an ardent blogger who writes about social and political issues affecting ordinary Greek people. Το άρθρο του δημοσιεύτηκε στην ηλεκτρονική ειδησεογραφική σελίδα Now Public.