Young face bleak job market

Over the past 10 years the state of labor market has deteriorated throughout Europe, a development which has mostly affected young people. The likelihood of someone under 30 being jobless is three times greater than among other age groups. In Greece 26 percent of young people are unemployed. Those lucky enough to have found some work inhabit a gray area pervaded by unemployment, under-employment and exploitation. The National Statistical Service says that 43.6 percent of people under 30 working in Greece are paid just -600 a month. So much for the statistics. Most of the people approached for an interview for this article did not want to go on record about their experience for fear of losing the little work they already had. Those who did felt they didn’t have much to lose. «I am a sound technician at a training institute,» said 26-year-old Georgia, whose skills are probably overspecialized for the Greek labor market. She has two degrees, one in English literature and one in sound engineering. The best pay she has been able to find lately is just -400 a month for 32-50 hours a week – «for as long as they need me.» Stella, a year younger, is a graduate of Athens University’s Department of Communications and Media. She works for an Athens daily with no set working hours. In the 10 months she has been there, she has received no wage, just two «bonuses» – -300 at Christmas and another -300 when she took a summer holiday. «When I realized I wouldn’t get any more than that I took a second job at a magazine,» Stella said. «Eventually the newspaper got rid of its unpaid staff.» Although the newspaper hadn’t paid her a wage, it had been paying her social security contributions, profiting from her presence by claiming her as an expense. In Greece, people often have no choice but to work in whatever jobs they can get. Nadia studied accounting at a private institute and her parents got her a job at an auto sales outlet, where she worked for six years. A year ago, at the age of 25, she decided to leave. Although she was paid reasonably well, she could no longer put up with the atmosphere. «I couldn’t stand the injustice, seeing relatives of the boss being promoted while other people worked like slaves and stayed in the same job,» she said. She went into her family’s business, also auto sales, but has no fixed wage. She gets anything between -300 and -400 a month, depending on how many cars she sells, while she looks for a better job. «I look in the classified ads for jobs, but nine out of 10 of them are suspect. They want a ‘pretty, presentable girl,’» she said. «They don’t pay for degrees. Even if you have one, they won’t want you because they have to pay you more,» she said. Her friend Danae, 25, studied literature in France and has a postgraduate degree. She works in a translation bureau, translating three languages. She is paid according to the amount of work she produces and has no social security; in fact she doesn’t want it because then she would be paid even less. She manages to earn about -500 a month, including what she earns by moonlighting in a body-piercing shop, whenever they need her. She has no holidays; she works all summer to save money for lean periods. «If you are a girl, you are always getting harassed. I sent a CV to a translation bureau and the boss replied by SMS. He wanted to meet that evening to talk about the job. The man owned a well-known firm! If I were fat or had a limp I would never get a job,» Danae said. Putting off independence The unemployment rate among young women is 24.4 percent. As for men, most of them are either still living at home with their parents or working two three or four jobs to get by. Antonis worked in the warehouse of a large housing goods firm. He lasted four months – 12 hours a day, six days a week, for 3 euros an hour. At 30, he still lives with his mother. «Ever since I finished my military service I have dreamed of starting a family. But on -483 a month, I’d only be able to afford to live in a tent,» he said. All the money he earned went on debts, so he decided to quit and find a way to improve his lot. «As I am in debt anyway, I decided to pay out a bit more and get a professional driver’s license so as to find a better-paid job,» he said. It seems that dependence is still the rule in Greek society, particularly that of women on their families and then on their husbands. On such low wages, it is very difficult to grow up and become independent. Nadia lives with her boyfriend, who pays the rent and the bills. Her parents pay her mobile phone bill. «The only contribution I can make is the food,» she said. «I have sold my car and use my boyfriend’s.» «Just as well I live in the center,» said Georgia. «I often walk to work, as I can’t even afford bus tickets sometimes,» she said. Employers want experienced staff, and someone who has been recommended. «The first thing they ask you in an interview is who sent you,» said Nadia. «They don’t even bother to call you back afterward. So we all end up in jobs for which we aren’t qualified.» «In the old days, young people could afford to live on their own but didn’t want to. Today the mentality has changed – they want to be independent but can’t afford to,» said Nadia. «Not all our parents can afford to buy a home for us.» As for starting their own families, Stella said, «Only if I win a lottery.» Young people in Greece are having a hard time growing up, and the exclusionary labor market only exacerbates this. Job ads do not target them. Their degrees are ignored. They see their future stifled, their dreams remaining just that – dreams. Closing in on 30, they live like children, being kept by their parents and working for pocket money. This article and the Stefanos Manos interview above appeared in the January 14 edition of K, Kathimerini’s color supplement.

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