Perplexing unemployment

Even in the good old days, Greece topped the charts for its shadow economy, which today is estimated at around 35-45 percent of GDP, if not more. Uninsured labor shows a similar profile and even though it is hard to put a figure on it, experts agree that it is very high. After all, the extent of uninsured labor is perfectly visible across the country. In agriculture, for example, hundreds of migrant workers are employed without receiving social security benefits, while many are in the country illegally and don?t even have work permits. The same is happening in homes, restaurants and many other establishments.

Seeing the extent of the phenomenon, a newcomer to Greece would probably think that either Greeks are employed in loftier jobs or the country is doing so well economically that it needs to import labor to cover its needs. Unfortunately neither conclusion is true, at least given the level of the recession and the statistics that put general unemployment at 25 percent and youth unemployment at 50 percent.

So where are all the young Greeks? How is it that during the peak tourism season unemployment rate grows, but jobs at popular tourist destinations such as Crete and Santorini are covered by workers from the Balkans, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and even from Latin America? Why don?t Greeks line up when farmers apply for more hands during the harvest? How is it that a plasterer offering 40 euros a day in wages for an apprentice is rejected by the handful of Greeks who show any interest, in contrast to the many foreigners who apply for the job? How is it that of the 350,000 university students in this country, so few want to earn some money over the summer by taking a tourism-related part-time job?

Such questions are important, though they in no way dismiss the fact that unemployment has risen to terrific proportions. Neither do they dismiss the fact that many, many employers would rather hire a foreigner on low wages and with no insurance, without the fuss and the demands that a Greek would inevitably have. This is one part of the answer; the other is that young Greeks are spoiled.

Unfortunately, there are many young Greeks who would rather sit in cafes all day whining than take on a job that may not be ideal under the present circumstances but may cover part of their basic needs.

The only conclusions that can be reached are that either many Greek families can afford not to send their young off to work, or many young Greeks have yet to grasp the seriousness of the problem and are still dreaming of a job in the civil service. Any other explanation would be more than welcome.

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