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In tough times, tea houses have become sanctuaries for the unemployed and retired.
ISTANBUL — Turkey's tea houses are filled with smoke more often than not these days, as streams of unemployed people join the ranks of the retired in their daily ritual of sipping tea and playing cards.
They are victims of Turkey's downturn, their jobs having been cut as the economy contracts and factories are forced to fire staff or close their doors. Most but not all come from lower-income neighborhoods and are left with few options for supporting themselves and their families.
Turkey's official unemployment rate has risen to 15.5 percent, but economists agree that this figure masks a much worse situation. Such estimates include only those unemployed who are actively seeking work, effectively halving the real number without jobs.
In an article posted on the news website Bianet, economist Mustafa Sonmez calculated the "real unemployment rate" by including hidden unemployment: that is, "the people who have given up hope of finding work and are thus not actively seeking employment, those who work on a seasonal basis only, and those who are underemployed."
The result? “An unemployment rate of 25.8 percent—not 12.3 percent.”
If such logic were to be applied to the current situation, it would mean an unemployment rate of over 30 percent — almost one third of Turkey’s population.
It’s been more than a year since Turkey’s $10 billion loan accord with the International Monetary Fund expired and the government has been in no hurry to secure a new deal despite unabated calls from business leaders and investors. After several tumultuous months of back-and-forth, however, the government is expected to meet with an IMF team in the upcoming weeks in the hopes of locking down a three-year deal that could help stabilize crucial aspects of the economy.
As the ranks of the unemployed swell, the tea houses, once places to read and discuss politics in one's autumn years, have become a window on the severity of the crisis.
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(Editor's note: this story was changed to correct the original definition of the BRICs)