SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Ireland formally ended its dependence on bailout loans last weekend - the first eurozone country to do that. Bureaucrats in Brussels celebrated the Irish success story; leaders in Dublin declared that unemployment is finally dropping, especially for young people. But reporter Joanna Kakissis found the picture may not be so rosy when she spoke with young people in the city of Limerick.
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Sharon O'Flaherty is riding the bus to Limerick. Her grandmother is dying and she wants to see her this Christmas. She hasn't been home in two years.
SHARON O'FLAHERTY: I was working for a company for five and a half years, and I got made redundant, and couldn't find a job at an equal level. So, the options were immigration, and it was basically take your pick: Europe, Canada, or Australia. So, I chose Australia.
KAKISSIS: The 29-year-old now works as a recruitment manager in Perth.
O'FLAHERTY: I have a mortgage in Limerick, being rented out, that I bought in the recession, and it still has dropped another $50,000. I'm sitting in negative equity working in Australia to pay a mortgage in Ireland. It's not a desirable situation.
KAKISSIS: It's also not uncommon, says Piaras MacEinri, a migration expert at University College Cork.
PIARAS MACEINRI: Because, of course, in a globalized economy, your debts follow you.
KAKISSIS: MacEinri says more than 70 percent of people who have left Ireland since 2006 are in their twenties.
MACEINRI: They are just, I suppose, drawing on a very long embedded tradition that, if things were bad, you just get out, you move on.
KAKISSIS: The latest exodus came after a banking crash in 2008. Ireland needed bailout loans, but the loans came with drastic spending cuts.
STEPHEN KINSELLA: I'm Stephen Kinsella. I'm a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Limerick.
KAKISSIS: Kinsella says Ireland may be free of those loans, but many people are still drowning in mortgage debt and facing a tight job market. He says his students realize that and that's why up to 80 percent are planning to leave.
KINSELLA: My generation was the only generation that didn't have to emigrate. And I think it's a sign of something important in the structure of our economy that the only time we were able to prevent mass immigration of our youth was during a construction bubble.
KAKISSIS: The government is encouraging students to go into growing sectors, such as technology. It's also offering back to school grants to people like 30-year-old Chris Kelly, who lost his auto repair shop in the recession.
CHRIS KELLY: To get any sort of a job now, you need a degree in something. So, I decided to return to education and hopefully sharpen my skills.
KAKISSIS: Others, like 20-year-old Stephen McGinnis, are sticking with traditional skills like carpentry. The construction industry has hit rock bottom in Ireland after the property market crash, but he's heard that Australia is eager to hire Irish woodworkers.
KELLY: You go out there, they're looking for people to work in construction work on farms. And it's just what we'll do. It's a job, at the end of the day. If we have to travel halfway across the world, we have to.
KAKISSIS: I spoke to at least 20 students on the University of Limerick's campus. Most said they planned to leave for Australia, Canada or even Dubai.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KAKISSIS: But not 20-year-old music student Sean O'Mara.
SEAN O'MARA: Well, I thought about going maybe for a couple of months, but nothing in the long term, really. I'd like to go abroad to experience it but I don't think I could move away. I don't know, I'm a bit of home bird. I'd be a bit homesick, you know.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KAKISSIS: He's playing a song on his guitar that would make you a little homesick if you were Irish. Sean is an optimist, and he says that after the pain of the crash, Ireland can only go up. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis.