Young Workers' Exit Adds To Greece's Economic Pain

Austerity measures taken to deal with Greece's national debt have worsened the country's unemployment rate; it stands at more than 16 percent. But among Greeks younger than 30, the unemployment rate is almost 40 percent. With few job prospects at home, more and more of the brightest young Greeks are looking overseas for work, fueling a "brain drain" that economists fear will cripple the country's recovery efforts.

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If you live in Southern Europe and you're young and well-educated, that is not enough to find a decent job. The economies of Spain, Portugal, Italy and, of course, Greece have been stagnant for years. In Greece, the debt crisis and austerity measures have destroyed the job market and that is starting to fuel a massive brain drain.

Joanna Kakissis reports from Athens.�

JOANNA KAKISSIS: Evi Michalopoulou is rummaging through her suitcase. She's living out of it, because she's only back home for the summer. Evi's 26. She couldn't find work after college, so she left Athens last year for the Netherlands, where she's getting a master's degree in human resources.�

Ms. EVI MICHALOPOULOU: I was searching for a job for almost two years, and I couldn't find anything in my field. Not even a simple job is easy to find here in Greece with the economic crisis, like a waitress or something simple. I'm really concerned, actually, because I don't know what will happen if every young, intelligent person goes away and doesn't stay in Greece.�

KAKISSIS: Michalopoulou says that after grad school, she probably won't return to Greece. She's not alone. About a quarter of Greeks between the ages of 25 and 35 are unemployed, and surveys show most young Greeks are thinking about working abroad.�

Stavros Antoniou runs a recruiting company in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki. A Greek raised in Stuttgart, he places Greeks in jobs in Europe and the Middle East. He says his company has seen a 500 percent increase in applications since last year.�

Ms. STAVROS ANTONIOU (Recruiting Company Owner): We are talking about a generation, again, which is high qualified and very thirsty to get the chance to work because they had not the chance in Greece to do that. They are so happy and so motivated to start working.

KAKISSIS: Antoniou helped 33-year-old Christos Kotanidis land a job as a seismic engineer at the giant Germany company Siemens. Kotanidis leaves next month. He says it's a sad irony that the country of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates cannot hang on to its best minds.�

Mr. CHRISTOS KOTANIDIS (Seismic Engineer): It hasn't been the easiest decision, leaving my country, my home, my family, my friends. It's a tragedy, having people who have studied in Greece - the country, the society, the Greek society has invested in them. Since they can't find a job here, they can't hope for a prosperous life here in Greece. They have to leave the country.�

Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)

KAKISSIS: At a cafe near the Acropolis, Nikolas Ventouris is listening to a young girl singing for money. Her song is about traveling far, far away from home.�Ventouris, a 33-year-old economist, says the loss of talented young people will impact Greece even more than the debt crisis. Even he understands why they're leaving.�

Mr. NIKOLAS VENTOURIS (Economist): I see a dead end in terms of opportunities. I think that I have potentials, both personally, but also in terms of education and in terms of my professional experience, that are being suffocated in Greece.�

KAKISSIS: He says if he were offered a job abroad, he'd take it. Change comes hard and slow in Greece, he says, and he doesn't want to wait.�

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.

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