In Iran, Young And Old Face Economic Struggle A young engaged couple in Tehran say they don't know how they will find the money to move out of their parents' homes. A septuagenarian living with her son says she wants to move to an apartment building with fewer stairs, but can't afford it. They are among the Iranians fighting to get by in a troubled economy.
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In Iran, Young And Old Face Economic Struggle

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In Iran, Young And Old Face Economic Struggle

In Iran, Young And Old Face Economic Struggle

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne in Washington.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep in Tehran, where we're reporting on Iran 30 years after its revolution.

This country was preparing to celebrate that anniversary when a couple of young lovers went for a stroll.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: They walked to the central bazaar of Tehran to a labyrinth of crowded alleys and tunnels, and they stopped before glittering gold in a jewelry store window.

What were you shopping for just now?

REZA: (Through translator) A wedding ring.

INSKEEP: Oh, congratulations. Are you getting married?

Unidentified Man (Translator): Yes, they're going to be married.

INSKEEP: When will be the date?

REZA: (Through translator) In two months.

INSKEEP: Reza wears a black leather jacket, which is almost a uniform for young men in Tehran. Faizah wears loose black clothes of the kind insisted on by the government. As they talk through an interpreter, it becomes clear that they must be marrying for love, since they don't have any money. They can't afford the rings that shine in the store window.

When you think about the economy and the political situation in Iran, is it a good time to get married?

REZA: (Through translator) No, no. Definitely is not a good timing for getting married.

INSKEEP: Reza and Faizah are among those we've met as we examine Iran this week. This morning we focus on the struggling economy of a nation made rich by oil money. That economy supports Iran's nuclear program and militant groups abroad. It also supports a population of about 70 million, or it's supposed to.

The economy is in trouble, even as Iranians celebrate the days when they overthrew an American-backed king.

The U.S. embassy is still here in Tehran, 30 years after Iranians seized it and took hostages. You can see the red brick building behind the brick walls. It's used as a school now for Iran's revolutionary guards. Across the street is what's known as the Martyrs Museum, honoring in part Iranians who were killed during that 1979 revolution.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: This museum has three floors of display cases filled with artifacts from decades of Iranian revolts and the Iran-Iraq war.

And are we looking at the main exhibit hall here or is there much more?

ALI ASKAR VAFAEI: (Foreign language spoken)

INSKEEP: Ali Askar Vafaei is curator of the collection, including the bloodstained tunic of a cleric who was killed protesting the shah of Iran.

If I may say, we're looking at black and white photographs of men who've been shot in the face, men who've been bound.

He says younger people didn't experience that, or the years before it, so they don't realize how much Iran's economy has improved since then.

ASKAR VAFAEI: (Foreign language spoken)

INSKEEP: He says the unhappy younger generation is like a fish that's desperate for water and doesn't realize it's already in the ocean.

The government knows that some people are restless. Islamic morals police move around this city in green and white vans. Authorities are going through another round of shutting down opposition newspapers. And all that activity might explain the answer I got when I asked Reza, that young man, what he thinks about the economy.

REZA: (Through translator) He says that's a very risky, dangerous question. Because whatever we say, there's a possibility that somebody comes and - I have to say it's very good.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

REZA: (Through translator) And it could not be better than this.

INSKEEP: Reza and his fiancée Faizah go on to say they're both 24 years old. He works as a building superintendent. He makes the equivalent of about $500 per month. And he says his entire salary probably would not pay the rent for a decent Tehran apartment. The young couple aren't sure how they're going to move out of their parents' homes.

They're among millions of people under 30 who make up most of Iran's population. And an Iranian businessman, Bijan Khajedpour, is worried about them. He's among many who see young people's struggles as a side effect of the 1979 revolution.

BIJAN KHAJEDPOUR: There are some mistakes that you can see. Look at the Iranian demography, for example. You see immediately that day discontinued birth control policies after the revolution. So in the '80s we had an explosion in the Iranian - we had in mid-80's a population growth of almost four percent. Exactly that age group of 20 to 30 years now are the bulk of our unemployed population, because we cannot provide jobs for them. So that - retrospectively you can see what a big mistake that was.

INSKEEP: Since the 1980's, Iran has faced an overriding question of what to do with a population that doubled. In recent years President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised more jobs and subsidies for the poor. But falling oil revenues made that hard to sustain, and inflation as high as 28 percent canceled out many of the benefits.

You see the effects of all this when you sit before the desk of a real estate broker in a working-class section of southern Tehran.

So how's business?

TALIBI: (Foreign language spoken)

INSKEEP: He says it was very good until six or seven months ago, which is when Tehran's own real estate bubble burst. Now the broker, named Talibi, says almost nobody is buying the properties listed on slips of paper taped to his wall. A few customers do stop by.

BIMANI TAHKHANI: (Foreign language spoken)

TALIBI: (Foreign language spoken)

INSKEEP: And they include an elderly woman looking for an apartment. We asked her about the economy.

TAHKHANI: (Foreign language spoken)

INSKEEP: Bimani Tahkhani says she lives with her son. We can manage, she says, and leaves the office. Then several minutes later she bursts back in the door. She sits in front of the microphone and prepares to say what she really thinks.

TAHKHANI: (Foreign language spoken)

INSKEEP: Greetings to the people of America, she declares, especially to your new president. And then she tells her story.

TAHKHANI: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man (Interpreter): She says my son is a taxi driver.

INSKEEP: She says her son makes the equivalent of $10 per day, not nearly enough for both of them.

TAHKHANI: (Through translator) I am a person who lives in a rental house and I am suffering a lot. And those who are telling you that the prices came down, everything is good, the economy is good, they are all liars. They are telling lies. Life is difficult. We cannot afford to live properly.

INSKEEP: She reaches down, pulls a worn out shoe off her foot, and flings it on the ground.

TAHKHANI: (Foreign language spoken)

INSKEEP: She says this is a pair of shoes that I'm wearing and it - and I cannot - I cannot afford to pay for a new pair of shoes.

INSKEEP: The woman says she's about 70. The stairs in her apartment building are killing her and she can't afford to move. She invites us to see for ourselves. Is there a time when maybe we should come?

TAHKHANI: (Foreign language spoken)

Translator: You can come now.

INSKEEP: She leads us down a side street and under a pointed Persian archway. She's leading us to the tiny apartment that she shares with her son. She's going to pour us tea, which we'll drink sitting on the floor. We'll peer at the kitchen where she cooks lentils for proteins since she can't afford much meat anymore. We'll do all that as soon as she climbs those stairs, the ones that make her so desperate to move.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS)

INSKEEP: She climbs past an apartment where music plays. She climbs another flight and another, five in all before we reach her door.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR OPENING)

INSKEEP: I see what you mean about the stairs.

TAHKHANI: (Foreign language spoken)

Man (Interpreter): She says, yes, at the highest floors, that's - that's so difficult for me.

INSKEEP: In a building with no elevator, a top floor apartment is the cheapest.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Iran's economy is slipping just as a presidential election approaches.

MONTAGNE: And some of the people in the report you just heard will explain why they're not voting. We'll hear that tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: From Washington, D.C., I'm Renee Montagne.

INSKEEP: And from Tehran, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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