Unemployed Greeks Look To Create Their Own Jobs Many young Greeks are worried that the nation's economy will take years to recover. Some are leaving for jobs abroad, but a few are starting businesses in the midst of the worst recession in decades.
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Unemployed Greeks Look To Create Their Own Jobs

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Unemployed Greeks Look To Create Their Own Jobs

Unemployed Greeks Look To Create Their Own Jobs

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Greece has signed on to a debt deal that averted a global financial crisis, but at a price. Austerity measures are hammering an already weak economy, and youth unemployment in Greece is now nearing 50 percent. Yet some people see opportunity amidst the chaos. Joanna Kakissis reports from Athens.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: It's a busy day at CoLab, a business incubator in a weathered, old building near the Athens cathedral. The offices are full. CoLab opened in late 2009 with just one occupant. Now, it has 45. Some of the start-ups here already have profits and Silicon Valley investors. Like BugSense, which makes a software bug-tracking service for mobile applications. Its co-founder is Panos Papadopoulos, a 28-year-old computer scientist.

PANOS PAPADOPOULOS: We have 5,000 developers from Japan to Argentina; and some of our customers include Samsung, Skype, VM Ware....

KAKISSIS: Papadopoulos mentors younger entrepreneurs. One is John Katsiotis, who's 25. He co-founded a new company called Parking Defenders. The company is developing a smartphone application that helps people find parking spots in Athens.

JOHN KATSIOTIS: I'm in my office; I'm going to leave in five minutes. So the spot becomes available to everyone that is interested in that area. I see a list of all the users that are interested, and I choose one. So that person can come and take my spot.

KAKISSIS: Parking is so scarce in Athens that people leave their cars on sidewalks. So Katsiotis believes the idea has some potential.

But potential is something young Greeks rarely explore, says Dimitris Tsigos. He leads a young entrepreneurs association here. Many of his relatives thought he was nuts when he started his now-successful e-learning company 12 years ago, when he was still in college. An aunt told him a real job meant working for the government.

DIMITRIS TSIGOS: The Greek dream was that you are hired in the public sector. You go to work at 8; you leave at 12. And you get 1,200 euros.

KAKISSIS: That's about $1,600 a month. And now, not everyone worked those easy hours, but at least public sector jobs used to be safe. The constitution protected public workers from getting fired. That changed when Greece was forced to take billions of dollars in bailout loans in 2010.

International lenders are forcing Greece to fire 150,000 public workers over the next three years, to cut costs. Austerity measures also forced 100,000 private businesses to close last year. That's left young Greeks with virtually no options, Tsigos says.

TSIGOS: That's why you see all these demonstrations, with people expressing anger, because they're frightened. Because they see that all this plan they had in their mind, now is destroyed.

KAKISSIS: He says he now hears from about 10 young entrepreneurs a week. But he admits that's not enough to call it a trend.


KAKISSIS: Most young Greeks say they feel adrift. Venetia Kogkou, who's 31, is sharing an evening picnic at the beach with her friends. She lost her job as a librarian two years ago. She says she's sent out hundreds of resumes.

VENETIA KOGKOU: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: When I was a little girl, my mom used to tell me that if I didn't study, I'd end up working at the supermarket, she says. But you know what? I can't even get a job there.

Most of her friends are also unemployed. They see no option but to leave Greece.

KAKISSIS: Back at CoLab, John Katsiotis says he's staying in Greece. He's the young computer scientist who's developing that smartphone app about parking.

KATSIOTIS: When you don't have a job, that means that you have plenty of time. You should do something with that time.

KAKISSIS: He says he's going to use that time to create a job with his company, Parking Defenders. The Greek economy is in its fifth year of recession. He knows he has a tough road ahead.

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

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