NEWS

The newly poor on our doorstep are an emerging social class in a society that is amassing wealth

While store windows reflect the new wealth that is being produced and amassed in Greece, there is another side to the picture – new poverty. Hundreds of thousands of young people – some of them with degrees in tertiary education – who are unemployed against their will, others who have left their villages, workers who have lost their jobs at a mature age, women, members of single-parent families and families with many children, and a large number of pensioners make up the army of the newly poor. Official estimates show that the poor represent around 20 percent of the Greek population, while many more can barely afford basic necessities. That 20 percent, together with many more who are on the verge of poverty, include many social classes who are newly poor. Unlike marginalized city dwellers or neglected individuals in the provinces, they do not fit the classic profile of poverty. Nowadays poverty strikes even those who have what was once the most powerful antidote to poverty, a job. Poverty has reached out to encompass workers, mainly salaried employees in the private sector, and those who do not have permanent jobs. «Participation in labor is not always a sufficient condition for avoiding poverty,» comments Ilias Kikilias, a researcher at the National Center for Social Research. «Families in which only one member has a job and with low wages due either to low positions or to successive bouts of unemployment are some of the factors that contribute to the phenomenon of ‘poverty in work,’» he explained. The new type of poverty is also associated with the disintegration of the traditional model of family support and also of family businesses. «In the past, much employment came from small family businesses in cities of the provinces. After the 1990s, it became harder for such businesses to survive, so young people turned to salaried work,» he said. «But the social state as it exists in Greece is not oriented to a society of salaried work, which makes it completely ineffective.» For instance, Kikilias noted that while Greece spends around the same amount on social welfare as the European Union average, it manages to reduce poverty by only 3 percent, when the corresponding EU figure is 9 percent. The crisis among small businesses is revealing: Eighty percent of those who found employment in 2006 took on salaried jobs, but on certain conditions. Almost one in two of them (46 percent) were taken on as temporary workers, a number that rose to 66 percent for public servants. Another major factor in the emergence of the new type of poverty is the rapid abandonment of farming and the countryside, which has led unemployed youth to congregate in cities. The new poverty is chiefly apparent in Athens and Thessaloniki, where the cost of living is higher and the wages of the newly poor are even less adequate.