Mary Kolonia is 19 years old and lives in Athens. She doesn’t go to university, she is in gainful employment. Sort of.
She works eight hours a day, five days a week at a call centre selling televisions. Her salary is 20 euros. Not per hour, not per day — it’s 20 euros a week.
Mary lives at home with her parents and brother. Her father, a decorator, has little work. Her mother cleans houses. Their monthly income is minimal. So why does she stay in her current job? Mary says she has no choice:
“Because I haven’t found anything else and because I’m at an age where I can’t ask for money all the time from my parents, because I don’t want to as they are in a difficult situation as well. So, I don’t want to burden them. I take the 20 euros per week and I get through my week with all my expenses but this money only lasts for 3-4 days, after that I’m out of money.”
Mary and her family are Albanian of Greek ethnicity. They came to Greece in search of a better life during the country’s boom years. Today, that better life seems little more than a pipe dream. But she isn’t angry:
“We have reached a point that we never expected to. We don’t even have a euro to buy necessary things like bread or milk, for instance. So, it’s not that I’m angry, it’s desperation. It’s a pity because there are so many other young people in the same situation.”
Mary belongs to the growing ranks of young people unable to find work. And this phenomenon is not unique to Greece. Throughout the European Union, the biggest victims of the eurozone crisis have been Europe’s youngest workers: those under the age of 25. In eighteen out of 27 EU member states, youth unemployment is over 20 percent. But for Ireland, Slovakia, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece as many as one in two people in this age bracket have no job. In total, Europe has 27 million people out of work.
Nick Malkoutzis is Deputy Editor of the Greek newspaper ‘Kathimerini’. He has written extensively on the problem of Europe’s youth unemployment, which he says should include those under 30 years of age. He is warning that a young generation, with little future, is the main ingredient in an explosive political and social cocktail that EU leaders can no longer ignore:
“Well clearly when you have seven out of ten young people unemployed and a lot of those disappointed, apoplectic about the opportunity of finding work, then you create a dangerous social situation and I guess it has two real ways you can see it developing. One is that you see a lot of young Greeks going abroad, that has started to some extent. We have 120 thousand graduates studying and working abroad over the last few years and the other is that they become so disappointed and angry with the political system, the decision makers in Greece, they turn to rather extreme solutions. “
Since Greece signed its first EU-IMF bailout three years ago, demonstrations have become an all too-familiar sight. A young generation protesting against what the baby boomer political generation has left them: a eurozone crisis, wage cuts, higher taxes and a shrinking job market with no room for young people.
But last month, a sign that Europe’s two biggest economies, Germany and France, have woken up and smelled the social crisis coffee. Angela Merkel and François Hollande announced a new vision of Europe which would include investing in the EU’s young – a so called “New Deal”.
France’s President Holland said he wants more focus on the problem:
“We would like it [Europe] to pay more attention to the job situation, especially jobs for the young.”
Germany’s Angela Merkel is aware a structural change is happening:
“If you look at the [austerity] programmes adopted in Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal or in Ireland, you will notice that it’s not just a question of budget consolidation. These are massive reforms that are completely changing these countries.”
Critics have argued the ‘massive reforms’ in these countries are virtually erasing the young from the job market. But under this so-called ‘New Deal’ the plan is to use some 6 billion euros to finance jobs in small and medium businesses across the EU. There will also be funding for language and training courses, so people can move to where the jobs are. Namely Germany and Austria.
But is this too late for people like Yiannis Spanos? Yiannis lives with his parents. He’s been applying for jobs for over a year and a half. He is weary of job searching:
“I have finished university, I’m 28 years old and I can’t find any kind of job. On top of that, I’ve never got an answer from any company I’ve applied to.”
While Yiannis hopes this so-called ‘New Deal’ could eventually help him open his own restaurant, he remains sceptical. For him, politicians don’t have the best track record when it comes to creating jobs for young people:
“First of all, we need to blame ourselves because we voted for them, for all these years. I can’t always blame the politicians. First it’s our fault, and then the politicians, and I could say that the politicians, who were in power all these years, did nothing about situation. They just left it as it is.”
For any kind of progress, change is needed. Changing a situation which has seen some 70 thousand small and medium sized companies shut down since the first bailout. And left almost a third of Greece’s workforce jobless. For Greece’s business community Europe’s new deal could “work” if they think “small”. Europe has some 25 million SME’s and 27 million people unemployed. Vassilis Korkidis from the National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce, says if each company hired one person, the problem is solved, but says the programme will take time to implement – time that Greece doesn’t have: “Certainly it can work but I don’t think it is going to work at the present period. I think it will for the new programming period of 2014-2020. To be honest, these next six months or even a year is a long time for Greece. We are struggling to reach 2014. Certainly I believe that the government is not able to do whatever it would like to do. They have to ask the Troika. I think within the Troika there are also different approaches as far as the Greek problem is concerned and I think the problem is that the Greek society is undertaking all these misunderstandings.”
Unemployment, especially unemployment among Europe’s young, is listed as being a top priority at the next EU Summit later this month. But the jobless generation have set warning bells ringing. The warning is this. Unless Europe leaders start putting their words into actions, the young, who are said to have their whole lives ahead of them, will get tired of waiting.
Yiannis Spanos is trying to keep his spirits up:
“If we are negative about everything we can’t go any further. Why can’t things change? I think they can change, if you help young people, everything can change.
But Mary Kolonia is running out of patience:
“ If I wait that long, I imagine that I will be at an age when I won’t have either the strength nor the ambition to work. Now is the time for me to work, to do something.”