ATHENS – Soon, Alexandra Mallosi, 29,
will be packing her bags and leaving the quiet Athens suburb of Holargos for
Abu Dhabi to start a job as a hotel sales manager. It was not a tough decision.
Her experience in the Greek hotel industry had left her frustrated.
“In other countries, young people are
encouraged,” Mallosi said. “In Greece, they are held back.”
Like Mallosi, an increasing number of
young college graduates are leaving Greece as a deepening recession chokes a
job market already constrained by an entrenched culture of cronyism. And the
outlook for a turnaround is not good.
The national debt, estimated at 300
billion euros (nearly $400 billion), is larger than Greece’s gross domestic
product, suggesting that years of austere budgets lie ahead. On top of that, a
string of political corruption scandals has left many young Greeks
According to a survey published in
August, 7 out of 10 Greek college graduates want to work abroad. Four in 10 are
actively seeking jobs abroad or are pursuing further education to gain a
foothold in the foreign job market. The survey, conducted by the polling firm Kapa
Research for To Vima, a centre-left newspaper, questioned 5,442 Greeks ages 22
Some, like Mallosi, are leaving
because they believe doors are closing in Greece. For many looking for their
first job after college, those doors never opened.
The latest official figures show that
unemployment among 15- to 24-year-olds was 29.8 percent in June, compared with
about 20 percent across the European Union. The Greek figure was an improvement
from 32.5 percent in May as summer jobs emerged but still well above the 22.9
percent in the month a year earlier.
For Greeks ages 25 to 34, the figure
was 16.2 percent in June, up from 11.8 percent in 2009. Overall unemployment
was 11.6 percent, up from 8.6 percent.
In the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of
people left Greece to seek a better life in the United States, Australia or
elsewhere in Europe. During the booming 1980s and 1990s, after Greece joined
the European Union, many returned to a thriving economy. The pride generated by
the Athens Olympic Games in 2004 spurred thousands more Greeks to come home.
But, as in Ireland, the party did not
last. In 2008, the first signs of a recession appeared. This year the debt
crisis required Greece to seek 110 billion euros in loan guarantees from the
International Monetary Fund and the European Union, which demanded an array of
budget cuts in return.
Now it seems the country is on the
verge of a new wave of emigration, with young college graduates at the
“Today the people leaving Greece are
not going to wash dishes in Astoria,” said George Pagoulatos, an associate
professor at the Athens University of Economics and Business, referring to a
heavily Greek section of New York. “They are graduate students in New York
choosing to stay and work there.”
There could be a “brain drain” if
talented young people see few prospects in Greece, he said. But he also
expressed doubts about their prospects in other Western countries where
unemployment is a problem as well.
Another reason for the wave of
emigration, he said, is a growing public discontent after the corruption
scandals in 2008 that rocked the previous conservative government.
Alexander Kentikelenis, 26, is one of
the disenchanted. He has a degree in international relations from Athens
University and a master’s in international development from the University of
Cambridge in England and is scheduled to return to Cambridge soon to start work
on a doctorate in sociology. His original ambition to enter Greek politics has
“I realized that the system
consistently favours the well connected over the talented,” Kentikelenis said.
The government has tried to persuade
employers to hire young people by lowering the monthly minimum wage to 590
euros from 700 euros and by offering to subsidize the social security contributions
of employers for new workers.
Yannis Stournaras, director of the
Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research, applauded the changes but said
they would fail unless the government stimulated growth by encouraging
investment in large-scale development projects like renovating the country’s
airports and building wind farms and solar-energy parks.
Data from the agency, known as the
OAED, show that 600,000 college graduates entered the labour market over the
last 15 years but only 250,000 jobs were created, most in the bloated state
sector. Even this pool of potential jobs is dwindling because the government
has frozen hiring and businesses are scaling back or moving some operations out
of the country.
Another problem, according to a study
by labour economists, is that most positions in the private sector are for
medium-skilled workers, not college graduates.