News / Europe

Greece Suffers Brain Drain as Youths Hunt for Work

A protester writes graffiti which reads 'Thieves'' outside the Greek Parliament during a peaceful rally for a 15th day, called through a social networking site in Athens, June 8, 2011
A protester writes graffiti which reads 'Thieves'' outside the Greek Parliament during a peaceful rally for a 15th day, called through a social networking site in Athens, June 8, 2011

Greece is in economic turmoil and its young people that are hardest hit. Over 40 percent of those aged 15 to 24 are unemployed. Many are responding by leaving their homeland to find work overseas and that could have broad repercussions for Greece.

Areti is a 28-year-old Greek who worked at an Athens-based production company until two years ago. Since then she has not been able to find permanent work.  

“What I see now, really many people think about this and one of them is me, is that many young people are seriously thinking to go abroad, to leave Greece once and for all,” said Areti.

Today, she is living in Athens with her boyfriend. But they have plans to move to Australia in order to find work. She says many of her friends have similar plans.

The Greek government is implementing an austerity plan that includes spending cuts and tax hikes. Business has plummeted and unemployment has spiked.

The youngest adults in Greece have been worst affected. A poll conducted last year found that seven out of ten Greek College graduates want to work abroad. And prospects for young people are not getting any better, according to Areti.

“This is something very sad and very disappointing for Greece," said Areti. "Our parents never wanted us to go abroad and to make families so far away.”

Lois Labrianidis is a regional economist at the University of Macedonia. He recently published a book about Greek “brain drain”. He says many of the most educated in Greece are leaving.

“Many more than before are deciding that they don't have real prospects to find a job in Greece," said Labrianidis. "That's why they are leaving the country. They are going to mainly developed countries, mainly the U.S. and the U.K., in order to find a job as professionals.”

He says Greece is losing its talent and, he says, that bodes poorly for the country’s future.

But he says there could be good news too. Many young Greeks are heading overseas but he says there are also large numbers leaving big cities and returning to their family homes in the countryside.

There, he says they are re-joining family businesses or starting up new ventures.

“If this trend is going to increase I think it's going to be a very positive trend for the rural areas of the country," said Labrianidis. "And at the end, this will help facilitate the development of the country as a whole.”

But he notes that young people are not heading to the countryside out of choice but because they feel they have to.

In Greece, young people are angry about the state of the country’s economy.

Areti says many young Greeks feel the system is corrupt, the private sector is stagnating, and meritocracy is not at work.  

Thousands have been gathering in a main square outside the Athens parliament for almost two months in protest.

“I think that when you have a lot of energy and you cannot work, things are going to get worse," said Areti. "Now, you have the gatherings in the squares, tomorrow I cannot say what we are going to have. But I see that there is a lot of anger in all the youth here.”

That anger has erupted in recent months, with young people and the police clashing on the streets of Athens. With youths at the center of protests across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa over the past year, it’s a demographic the Greek government may have reason to worry about.

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