ECONOMY

The many faces of unemployment in northern Greece

Unemployment has many different faces. It is one thing to be unemployed when another member of your household still has a job, another when you are part of a group that?s been fired from the same company, yet another when you live in a city where everything appears to continue as normal while you sit at home with nothing to do, and something quite different when you end up queuing for food at your local church.

?I don?t know how to convey the stories of the unemployed people I know,? a member of the union for hotel employees in Thessaloniki told Kathimerini on condition of anonymity. ?How can I convey what it means to die a slow death? How the household of an unemployed person enters into a state of limbo? What it?s like for a former colleague to ask you for money to buy bread for his child??

Giorgos Panelis was the labor chief at a big company that went out of business. ?I am 41 years old and have been unemployed for 22 months, but I consider myself lucky because my wife still has a job.?

Panelis feels that his predicament is similar to that of thousands of Greece?s unemployed.

?Fifteen years of working in the same business, then it was gone, overnight,? he told Kathimerini. ?Our basic household expenses come to 1,000 euros a month and we have an income of 900 euros. After my unemployment benefits ended, I spent all day looking for any kind of work. At first we got help from our parents, other relatives and friends. But how long can that last for? Now my mother has also lost her job and we have to help her too. Not being able to make ends meet is a reality now more than ever. And my wife works. I have former colleagues who are having trouble paying for just the basics in food.?

Asked how he and his wife responded to seeing their joint income cut by 70 percent, Panelis explained: ?You cut from everywhere — transportation, shopping and gifts. You try at first to keep the children?s private language tutorials or sports activities going. Expenses related to health and education become the priorities.?

A visit to the once-bustling industrial zone in Sindos on the outskirts of Thessaloniki is revealing in terms of what the end of a part of the economy looks like.

Sakis Karakatselis was once among 130 employees at Sindos who went on strike for two years over lack of payment. He has now been formally unemployed for one year. His son?s studies eventually had to stop, along with other household expenses which were no longer affordable. ?One of my sons was studying mathematics on Samos. As a family we decided we had to pull him out of classes and have him do his military service, attending university only for exams.?

At age 51, Karakatselis is not optimistic. ?There are no jobs out there. There?s an age limit for day labor, and now, at my age, I can?t even find a job packing boxes.?

For Karakatselis and his former colleagues, the Sindos industrial park ?has acquired a new meaning. We meet there after every exhausting day of looking for a job; we talk.?