Greek Youth Face Tough Choices The financial crisis gripping Greece is having a major impact on the country's young people. A two-tier labor market that favors the older generation and draconian austerity measures have triggered a record high jobless rate among those under 35.
NPR logo

Tough Choices For Greece's Youth In Economic Crisis

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Tough Choices For Greece's Youth In Economic Crisis

Tough Choices For Greece's Youth In Economic Crisis

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


The financial crisis gripping Greece is having a major impact on the country's young people. A two-tiered labor market favors the older generation and draconian austerity measures have triggered record-high joblessness among those under 35. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports the economic upheaval is undermining Greece's traditional family structure and it's pushing young Greeks to leave the country in search of a better life.


SYLVIA POGGIOLI: It's Saturday night. The bars and cafes in trendy Monastiraki are packed. At the James Joyce Pub at the foot of the Acropolis, a group of 20-somethings are holding a going-away party for a young doctor who has found a job abroad. His friends don't feel so lucky.

JOANNA ZAHARI: The general feeling is that the future doesn't depend on us.

POGGIOLI: Thirty-one-year-old Joanna Zahari-oudaki gives private English lessons. She feels stuck here and just tries to survive.

ZAHARI: I try to imagine myself one month from now. I don't know what the answer is because every month, every day, we hear different things. We don't know. We try to change them but nothing changes. It doesn't feel like it's democracy anymore.

POGGIOLI: The unemployment office is crowded. There are also women with babies waiting in line and most everyone is young. Twenty-eight-year-old George Koklas just got laid off as a driver and bodyguard at the Finance Ministry. Previously, he worked with his father as a house painter, a skill he believes is useful anywhere. Koklas has already put the word out on the international Greek grapevine. He hopes to go to the U.S. or Australia.

GEORGE KOKLAS: (Through translator) The only thing left for us is to quit the country and to immigrate to another country. I will feel very bad for my relatives, for my family, not for my country. My country now is a big disgrace.

POGGIOLI: Greece's large and growing pool of skilled as well as unskilled workers is attracting headhunters from abroad. The Australian embassy in Athens is already organizing work fairs in search of doctors and dentists as well as plumbers and home care workers. Even Germany is putting out feelers for doctors and engineers. But in a country where family ties are intense, the number one topic anguishing the Greek household is: Should the kids stay at home or seek their fortunes abroad? Despina Papadopoulou, who teaches social sciences at Athens University, says the economic crisis is having a radical impact on one of the traditional pillars of Greek society: overprotective parents who coddle their children, promote their education and yet keep them at home well into adulthood.

DESPINA PAPADOPOULOU: (Through translator) Now you have one or even both parents who have lost their jobs. This is undermining fundamental family relationships. They're exploding, not because of a change in peoples' outlook but because social and economic conditions inside the family have changed.

POGGIOLI: The best-educated generation in Greek history has had the rug pulled out from under their feet.

LIDIA MANCA: It's our future we're talking about.

POGGIOLI: Twenty-eight-year-old Lidia Manca is studying accounting and finance at Athens University. She comes from a middle-class family, but her father, an engineer, recently lost his job. She feels at a loss.

MANCA: I have never thought before of leaving Greece and going out to find a job. But I think I have no future here. We, all of us, studied hard, we got into a really good university in Athens, and now it just ? it just means nothing.

POGGIOLI: But some young people still have a clear aim in sight. At this university dormitory, the students come mostly from low-income families but scored high on their entrance exams and won good scholarships. Now that the government is slashing funds for education, the students are staging protests and occupying buildings. Evangelia Angehlina is a 21-year-old medical student who wants to be a surgeon. Her father is a plumber and her mother is a cleaning woman, and she has no intention of leaving Greece.

EVANGELIA ANGEHLINA: I want to fight here with other people to change this situation and have a future in our country.

POGGIOLI: In the middle-class neighborhood of Elinorosson, 30-year-old Stella Kasdagli and her 35-year-old husband, Alexandros Karamalikis, are trying to make ends meet. The wife, managing editor of a magazine, has had her wages cut and has to pay a slew of new taxes. The husband lost his job as a record producer, is now a stay-at-home dad raising their 13-month-old daughter. He restores old pieces of furniture he tries to sell to friends. The couple says they'll stay in Greece.


But we'll do that in a hostile environment, without good public schools, without good public universities, without anything from the state. I mean, we give the money without taking something back. They just reduce their help to the society, not only to us, to the poor people that they really, really need it.

POGGIOLI: The economic crisis is not only upsetting the family structure. It's also putting the spotlight on a two-tier labor market where older full-time employees have up to now enjoyed job-for-life security, and a second-class group of workers, mostly poorly paid young people with short-term contracts and few or no benefits. George Kirtsos, a journalist and publisher, calls it a form of modern slavery. And he's not alone in thinking that the crisis could lead to some kind of uprising, led by the young.

GEORGE KIRTSOS: We'll have (unintelligible) a civil war among generations, generations war in Greece. Because those that control the systems that are in their 50s or their 60s sent a bill of their own failure to the younger generation.

POGGIOLI: Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Athens.


As that younger generation in Greece deals with its struggles, angry public sector workers in the country are on the streets again today. They blocked the entrances to several ministry offices. They have been protesting wide-ranging austerity measures.

NEARY: The government has reduced salaries, increased taxes and cut jobs in an effort to secure more international aid. European finance ministers are met in Luxembourg to talk about releasing the next installment of bailout cash to Greece.

GREENE: Ministers say the country could wait until mid-November to get the next round of money. A government official acknowledged this week that Greece will not be able to meet its deficit-cutting targets this year, and that announcement sent the euro into a tumble against the dollar.

NEARY: The eurozone's finance ministers are assure Greece they will do everything to avoid a default.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.