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In Greece, education isn't the answer

A generation of Greeks has graduated from university prepared for nonexistent jobs.

Protesters clash with police during a May Day rally outside the parliament in Athens May 1, 2009. Unemployment is rising for the first time since 2004 in Greece. (Kostas Tsironis/Reuters)

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.