The Great Escape

A few weeks ago, the Financial Times concluded a piece on the problems confronting the Greek economy with the sentence: «Analysts say a sharp slowdown could result in an exodus of Greek workers to Western Europe for the first time since the 1960s.» This odd forecast drew an angry response, especially as Greeks have almost attained the EU average in terms of personal incomes and because their country has been a recipient of immigrants for nearly two decades now. The Greeks of the diaspora have done very well and always serve as a reminder of what immigration can offer but, in the last few years, living standards in Greece (with regard to consumer goods etc) are as good, if not better, than most other countries. And yet, many Greeks would like to work abroad – not because of any impending economic crisis but because the situation here is already discouraging. Many young people see that no matter how many years they spent studying, no matter how willing they are to work hard and make a contribution, they are condemned to work in jobs unrelated to their studies and will be very lucky to earn a salary above 700 euros a month. Those who studied abroad (and did not stay there) have already had a taste of what Greece could be like but is not. Pessimism, however, has hit the older age groups too. «This can’t go on,» people say. The high cost of living (which, to a great extent, wipes out the «benefits» of overborrowing) but also the fact that in our country we have to work tirelessly to achieve the most basic things, creates the impression that if we worked as hard in another country, we would achieve far better results. As recent polls have shown, the sense that the country is headed in the wrong direction is increasing rapidly. And our politicians appear neither capable nor willing to try propose solutions. Despite all this, an international poll which passed almost unnoticed last week made a shocking revelation: nine out of 10 Greeks would leave their city or their country for better work and living conditions. The «Relocating for Work Survey» was conducted online in April, by the US-based company Manpower which deals with recruitment and labor issues. It gathered responses from 31,574 people in 29 labor markets around the world (among them 1,079 Greeks). In response to the question: «Would you ever consider relocating for a job?» 87.7 percent of the Greeks replied «yes,» against a global average of 78 percent. Among the chief reasons were: better pay (87.8 percent, with a global average of 81.8 percent), better employment opportunities (71.7 percent, with a global average of 72.7 percent) and a better environment (58 percent, against an average of 43.2 percent). It’s interesting to note that the two countries with the lowest level of job security – Britain and the United States – top the Greeks’ choice of countries in which they would like to work. (Third on the list is Italy, followed by Germany, France, Spain, with relocation in Greece itself a distant seventh). One could venture a conclusion that Greeks are ready to take their risks in a less secure work environment in order to achieve better pay and quality of life. Another interesting feature of the survey is that the higher people’s educational qualifications are, the more willing they are to relocate for work. We are not talking about the kind of migration that the Greeks experienced in the 1960s, when trainloads of unskilled laborers left for factory work in Western Europe. Today’s circumstances are more like the phenomenon of bright Greek students choosing to stay in the country in which they studied and in which they quickly find good work. If the best among those working in Greece are now prepared to leave, where does that leave Greece? This pessimism will only lift when our politicians manage to create a climate of confidence, when they convince the rest of us that they are ready to work for the good of the country and not of their political group, when they remove the obstacles of bureaucracy and sort out organizational chaos. And this will only happen when the citizens demand from Greece what they yearn for abroad.