Greek families left struggling after successive cuts

AFP

ATHENS: In the living room of his small Athens flat, 40-year-old Dimitris Voutsinos scours the web for job ads — one of the thousands struggling to cope as Greece’s economic crisis endures.
“The key issue is uncertainty,” said the former sound technician, who has been out of work for years and relies on his elderly mother’s pension to make ends meet.
There are thousands of Greeks like Voutsinos: Unable to find steady work in the country’s moribund labor market, they are forced to return to the nest or seek financial support from their parents, or both.
“We are on monthly job contracts. Once that is over, you do not know if you will find something else,” said Voutsinos, who lost his main job a year before the crisis struck in 2010 and has only managed to find occasional short-term work in a call center.
“You cannot plan your own life, let alone think about starting a family,” said Voutsinos.
He lives across the hall from his mother, whose €750 ($843) monthly pension has now become invaluable.
“We cannot manage without the help of my mother but this means she cannot afford to hire a caregiver,” he added, dejectedly mixing a cup of coffee.
Voutsinos’ Lithuanian wife, a graphic artist, said they should relocate to her country. But he is reluctant to leave his mother behind.
At over 22 percent, Greece has the EU’s highest rate of unemployment. At 1.3 children per couple, it also has one of the lowest fertility rates. And it also has a soaring emigration rate. Nearly 430,000 people aged 15 to 64 have left the country to seek work abroad since 2010, according to Bank of Greece figures.
Over 100,000 left in just 2013, at the height of the crisis.
Overall, Greece has lost a quarter of its economic output in the last seven years. With daily necessities now weighing heavily on the family budget, the psychological release of casual shopping is no longer an option for most, noted psychologist Yiannis Giastas.
“Before the crisis, people could fight against depression through purchases and entertainment. (For many) those means are no longer available,” Giastas said.
Despite soaring unemployment, successive governments have increased taxes and cut pensions in the last seven years to qualify for back-to-back bailouts from the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In May, under pressure from its creditors, the government slashed pensions again and cut tax breaks for 2019 and 2020, even for income just above the poverty level.
The ink was barely dry on these latest measures when the government on Friday passed yet another law, this time to freeze pensions by an additional year to 2023.
Dimos Koumbouris, head of the association of Greek private sector pensioners, spent 40 years in the steel industry. His annual pension takings fell from €33,000 before the crisis to €16,000 today.
“We had planned to live our lives with a certain amount of money…we worked for this money…and now we live with (essentially) handouts,” the father of two told AFP.
For Ermolaos Linardos, a retired teacher, his pension reduction has reverberated on his son and five grandchildren.
“What is the point of a grandfather who cannot help his grandchildren?” he said.
“Before the crisis, I could help out. But my pension has been reduced by 35-40 percent and it is more and more difficult.”
For Greeks raised in the years of prosperity immediately before and after the country adopted the euro in 2001, the situation appears bleak. But Giastas believes that those growing up in crisis-hit Greece will find a way to adapt.
“I have the sense that people in their 20s will find it easier to adjust to these new confines. I am relatively more optimistic about the next generation.”

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