In Greece, education isn't the answer

ATHENS, Greece — When Zoi Zindrou graduated from university with a degree in communications, the best job she could find in her field paid 300 euros a month, about $400, for a more than 40-hour work week.

Now 27, Zindrou has been working for five years. But she has never had a job with a proper contract or an employer who registered her legally and paid her social security taxes. Fed up, she finally decided to strike out on her own, but as a freelancer, still only makes about 500 euros, or $675, a month.

“I still rely on my parents economically,” Zindrou said. “And they make me feel like a child.”

Zindrou is a member of Greece’s “Generation 700 Euros,” named for the salary young people can expect to earn when they graduate from college. They’re overeducated, underemployed and, for the most part, still dependent financially on their parents. And, as the wave of riots that shook Greece last December sharply illustrated, they’re also increasingly disillusioned.

“There’s a wider feeling of anger against what we perceive to be the establishment,” said Thannasis Gouglas, a 30-year-old civil servant who blogs at with a group of other young Greeks, including Zindrou. “We’re a generation that doesn’t feel like we’re climbing the economic mobility ladder.”

Nearly 65 percent of Greeks under the age of 30 earn less than 750 euros — about $1,000 — a month. Among Greeks age 25 to 35, like Zindrou, the unemployment rate is 11.5 percent, and higher education correlates with higher unemployment.

“Young people complain because they have reason to complain,” said Nikos Koutsiaras, an economist at the University of Athens. “Even though a higher percentage of young people go to university, those people graduating from university face less employment opportunities than 10 years ago, or 15 years ago.”

It’s not only Greek youth who are struggling. Across Europe, young people are facing similar challenges. In Italy they’re called “Generation 1,000 Euro”; in France, they’ve been dubbed “The Precarious Generation.”

These young Europeans worry life won’t be better for them than for their parents, and that it’s not education or intelligence that matter, but connections.

In global terms, young Greeks don’t appear to be suffering: They’re well-dressed, well-fed and decked out in designer accessories.

But while the country as a whole has become more prosperous in recent decades, the 700 Euro Generation is finding they’ve been educated for an economy that doesn’t exist.

Greek universities churn out graduates in philology and history, but employers want graduates in technology or business administration. The service industries, especially tourism, are still the country’s largest employers.

Economists like Koutsiaras also say the country’s high social security taxation rates and sluggish bureaucracy have created a labor market stacked against new entrants. It also encourages a large shadow, or black market, economy in which many young people like Zindrou find themselves trapped.

“They are misled, but they are misled not by their parents. They are misled by the schools,” Koutsiaras said.

A less charitable name for the G700 is the “xlidanergoi” or “luxury unemployed.” Some critics say young Greeks, who grew up during a period of peace and prosperity, expect the benefits of a middle class life without the hard work.

Immigrants now largely fill well-paid but unglamorous jobs that require manual labor but little education, like construction. In Greece, a butcher or a house cleaner can make more than a civil servant, but most young Greeks shun such work.

Gouglas and his fellow bloggers at didn’t agree with the violence that characterized many of protests in December, but say young people have reason to be angry.

Unlike many of those who took to the streets in December, they have specific demands: They want better pay for young people, but also labor market reform and improved education.

In the wake of December’s riots, politicians are beginning to take notice. Earlier this month, parliament held a session on how to improve the opportunities for young Greeks and the country’s prime minister, Kostas Karamanlis, pledged to push through a set of youth-oriented reforms.

“We risk losing a whole generation,” said Gouglas. “It’s a ticking time-bomb.”

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