Consumption reigns

Despite having one of the highest growth rates in the eurozone (3.7 percent in 2005), Greece also has the highest unemployment rate (9.6 percent). The paradox is explained by the country’s high private consumption, which has a minimum impact on jobs. According to the Bank of Greece, private consumption, fueled by credit expansion, accounted for about two-thirds (2.6 percent) of the growth rate, with public consumption and investment making a zero contribution last year. Immigrants make a comparatively large contribution to private consumption, if account is taken of their income levels. According to data in the family budget surveys compiled by the National Statistics Service (NSS) for 2004 and 2005, Greek households spent an average of 1,806 euros per month and immigrant households 1,516 euros per month. The two groups’ consumption patterns mainly differ in that immigrants spent a much larger portion of their incomes on necessities rather than services. The surveys show that immigrant households spend an average of 20.5 percent of their income on foodstuffs, as opposed to 17 percent for Greek households. Immigrants also spend 19.6 percent of incomes on housing, water and fuels, against 10.3 percent for Greeks, and only 10.2 percent on health and education, against 15.3 percent for Greeks. The increased demand for housing is seen as likely to have contributed to the maintenance of a relatively stable consumption model in the last five years. Housing, in combination with other factors such as loans, credit expansion and falling interest rates, increased household expenses for home buying and dampened those for other purchases. The Bank of Greece notes that private consumption in 2005 continued to be supported by households’ disposable income, which, however, rose at a slower rate and less than private consumption in real terms. The rate of growth of real disposable income in the economy’s private sector actually fell to 1 percent in 2005 from 6.9 percent in 2004.